Mrs. Wigglebottom Saves the Day

The Butcher got a 3-D space projector for Christmas. If you turn off all the lights and turn on the projector, it will project a 3-D image of, say, the solar system on your ceiling.

At which point, Mrs. Wigglebottom, sensing the imminent danger posed by our nearest planetary neighbors, will start growling and barking and putting herself between you and the solar system. Fear not! As long as Mrs. Wigglebottom’s on duty, Mars will not get you.

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Merry Christmas

When we were little, we used to get up very early to open presents on Christmas day. The tree was this hideous thing that looked like we’d stolen it from a car wash, but early on Christmas morning, with the lights twinkling and the music playing and the presents all under it, it was the most beautiful thing.

We never had a fireplace, so our stockings were all stuffed to the brim and spilling out all over the couch. We always had M&Ms and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Usually, there was a toothbrush and some crayons. We all went through our stockings at once.

But when we opened our presents, we all had to open them one at a time, each person taking their turn while everyone else looked on.

Then we’d usually have breakfast, pack up and drive to Battle Creek to my grandma’s, where we’d have Christmas all over again.

My grandma would always have this fabulous spread ready for for us when we got there: homemade beef and noodles, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls… hmm. I can’t remember if we had anything that wasn’t a starch, but it was all really good.

Then, we’d spend New Year’s Eve with the other Reverend and his family. Almost always, this involved eating a lot of M&Ms, watching Indiana Jones movies and playing with the other Reverend’s sons, while our parents played almost violent games of euchre (How do you spell that?) and squeak.

On New Year’s Day, there’d inevitably be an ice storm, but we’d drive home anyway.

Today, we’re waiting for our parents to get here while our annual pot of Christmas chili simmers on the stove. That’s a tradition I started when we got Mrs. Wigglebottom.

Now, if only I can get the Butcher to set up a tree, we’ll have a right fine Christmas afternoon.

The Stupidining Update

According to our neighbor, the large sheet of ice down our hill is the only ice left on the streets of Nashville. The Butcher’s car is, as I said, down at the end of the dead end. Some other tiny car is slid sideways in front of our place. The aforementioned neighbor was stuck at the mailboxes. While he pushed, I steered and we slid the car down the hill safely.

Happily, tomorrow is supposed to be above freezing and so I hope that the ice that keeps me trapped today will be gone for Christmas.

Day 2, the stupidining

As I watched the Butcher’s tiny car slide back down the hill for third time, I knew I was going to be carless once again. The Butcher’s car sits at the end of our dead end, pointing towards freedom, but too light to take anyone there.

My car, though, model of German/American ingenuity (and Dodge’s genius for developing a body style that reminds all us thirty-somethings of the 80s Cameros we wanted so desperately to get laid in) can get up the hill. And so, there it goes without me, on its way to a day that does not include another 14 hours of tv.

How much do I regret leaving the manuscripts I was planning on reading in the airport on Sunday in my car? Oh, a hell of a lot. How much TV can one girl watch?

Yesterday, I crocheted a hat for my mom and got about 2/3 of the way done on one for me. Today, sunny though it is, will see the completion of that hat and the start, I predict, of another one.

It’s weird. If I had a car, I’d have no problem with staying in all day. But without my car, I’m utterly unable to come up with things for me to do.

On the upside, at least the Butcher will have to buy me a tank of gas.

Snowed In

Well, though I only planned on going out today to get some toothpaste and cash a check, because I was going to do laundry and clean the kitchen, I can’t bring myself to do laundry or clean the kitchen, because I’m snowed in.

The worst part is that I’m trapped by snow that doesn’t even cover the grass. It’s infuriating. But we live at the bottom of a slight hill and it sleeted all night and so, under the light snow, is a layer of ice and so the Butcher cannot get his light car up the hill and to work.

So, I let him take my car. And so I’m stuck here at the bottom of the hill. The sun does not shine directly on the front of our house enough this time of year to melt the ice, so I imagine, until it warms up, we’re going to be, effectively down to one car.

Still, Mrs. Wigglebottom keeps my spirits up. She loves, and I mean, LOVES the snow. We’ve already been out playing in it once this morning and I’m just about to take her out again.

And, as many of you know, we suspect the small cat is a CIA agent. Most of our suspicions can be traced back to her ability to go upstairs and disappear for days on end. Then there was her misguided attempt to disguise herself by losing all of her ass hair. And this morning, even though she was sneaking back and forth in front of the house, she refused to come in.

Now, she and Mrs. Wigglebottom are asleep on the big green couch and the orange cat is off pouting someplace. But I’m hoping she’ll have her contact bring me some hot chocolate.

I’m watching VH1 Soul, hoping to see Mos Def’s new video and trying to figure out what the hell is going on with Destiny’s Child, with their highwasted shorts and big dogs. For half the video they have the weirdest cloths on but then, at the end of the video, they appear to be wearing Salt n Pepa’s clothes from the “What a Man” video.

So, it’s an ordinary day here.

Brenda Lee, coming on strong

Today’s my last day in the office until after the new year, so I spent the afternoon downtown listening to Brenda Lee talk about recording “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” It was a riot, since she’s smart and funny and knows how to tell a good story.

But the most interesting part of the afternoon was the music, both hers and the stuff that was playing as folks were milling about waiting for it to start. It occurs to me that when most people say that they don’t like country music, they have no idea what they’re talking about. The stuff you hear on the radio, even the old stuff, is just the calm surface of a strange, deep sea.

Everyone thinks the old stuff is Hank and Patsy and Johnny Cash. And that’s true, but it’s not the whole truth. There’s some really weird shit out there and you don’t have to dig very deep to hear it. Take Brenda Lee, for instance, who, as a young girl was singing lines like “Sitting in my dress, trying to read my book / My baby gives me that special look.” When she’s growling those lines, you don’t have any doubts as to what that look is, but when you see her back then, this 13 year old, you sure wonder if she knows what that look means.

Anyway, going down to the Hall of Fame is always an adventure. The most difficult part is that they usually let me park in this secure, free area; but you have to press this button on the call box to tell security that you’re there so they can open the gate for you. And I don’t know what it is–somehow the whole thing is set up hinky–but I can never get close enough to the box to hit the button. And I have long arms!

So, today, I felt brilliant because I used my window scraper as a poking device. However, just as I hit the button, I thought of that Simpson’s episode where Lisa imagines that she’s married to Ralph Wiggums and she tells her kids to go get her prying stick, because here I was with my poking stick, that I started laughing and the security guy couldn’t understand me.

Then, I went and signed in and promptly got lost in the underbelly of the Hall of Fame. I swear to god, I’m just one wrong turn away from ending up the Hall’s own Phantom, drifting through the corridors scaring the shit out of the employees. I’ll be a legend, like Bloody Mary, and the younger staff members will go into the bathroom with no light but one small candle and say my name 100 times in front of the mirror and I will, because I think someone is coming to show me the way to the Ford Theater, appear before them.

Well, being the Phantom of the Hall of Fame would have certain advantages, as I would get to spend many late nights after the museum was closed sitting in the archives listening to old music. And I’d be the first person at the restaurant every day, so I wouldn’t have to wait that long for my food.

The Dog Whisperer

Sometimes, occasionally, not very often, but sometimes, I get bored with my TV boyfriend, Dan Abrams, and have to go in search of something else to watch while I eat dinner. Lately, I’ve been watching The Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel. For those of you unfamiliar with the National Geographic Channel, their programming seems to fall into three broad categories: crap I don’t care about, shows about dogs, and shows that set out to prove that Leonardo DaVinci was the coolest man to ever walk the face of the planet.

The Dog Whisperer, obviously, is one of their shows about dogs. The premise of this show is very simple: most folks don’t give their dogs the structure they need in order to know and feel secure in their place in the pack and so their dogs are giant monsters who need a visit from a stern, yet insane, man in order to set things right.

I totally dig this show for two reasons. 1. It makes me feel much better about Mrs. Wigglebottom, who, for all her faults, is not biting kids at the park. and 2. The whole message of the show is that the problem with almost all dogs lies with their owners. I have no idea if this message is true or not, but it feels good to me, because that means that all Mrs. Wigglebottom’s problems are not her fault, but mine. If only I could change, Mrs. Wigglebottom would be better. It’s really a genius message, because, as an American woman, I’m so ready to hear it.

Egad! This is about to take me off on a depressing tangent; let’s get back to the dog.

So, anyway, the fact that Mrs. Wigglebottom leaps up onto everyone who comes over in an annoying (to my guests) and frustrating (to me) manner has always been the largest bone of contention between me and the dog. But The Dog Whisperer has inspired me to try harder to train her to keep all four feet on the ground when we have company.

Lately, we seem to have been making real progress. The Redheaded Kid came over last night and though Mrs. Wigglebottom barked as he struggled to open the door, she could not be bothered to get off the couch. And, I think the Professor can attest that she’s not been so “jump-up-y” lately. Also, the dog doesn’t even get excited when The Guy Who Gets Laid comes by.

I thought we were making real progress. I thought that soon Miss J. would be able to come visit me without wearing protective padding. Oh, soon, thanks to the dog whisperer himself, I would have a perfectly behaved dog.

But, no, Mrs. Wigglebottom still exhibits what I fondly refer to as “person specific behavior,” which means that, rather than learning that we don’t jump on ANYONE who comes to the door, she’s just keeping track of who she no longer has to bother with. Some folks come and go without her giving a shit and other folks must be greeted in the most annoying manner possible.

My dog, apparently, cannot generalize.

I have only two small dreams for my dog. One, I’d like for her to not leap on anyone when she’s excited to see them. The realization of that dream is going poorly. And, two, I wish she knew our names. Other people can say to their dogs, “Go get Legal Eagle” for example, and their dog will go bounding up the stairs looking for said person. I say, “Get the Butcher; get the Butcher” and Mrs. Wigglebottom immediately runs up and licks my finger.

Clearly, she knows there’s a word that we call her, but again, because she can’t generalize, I don’t believe it’s ever occurred to her that we all have words we call each other. In fact, I’m convinced that she thinks the name “the Butcher” actually refers to my finger.

Here is Mrs. Wigglebottom’s limited and somewhat defective vocabulary:

Car/Park–I’m not sure she knows the difference between these two words, so I’m also lumping them together as one.

Walk

Outside

No

Hey

Wait

Grass–This we use as a verb to mean get out of the road because there’s a car.

Butcher–Which she thinks is my finger. It’s sad that the cats understand pointing, but the dog does not. I’m not even sure why the dog thinks we need a word between us that means “Lick my finger.”

Treat

Sit

Roll Over–though she only does this for the recalcitrant brother.

Down

Ball/Bone–She cannot differentiate between the two. If you say “Get your bone,” she’ll come back with a bone or a ball.

We also have two whistles we use. There’s a two-toned one which means something like “pay attention” which I use when she’s lagging behind and is about to reach the end of the leash or when she’s about to tangle us around a tree or when I need her to lick the plate, and a one-toned one that means “you’re about to yank the leash out of my hand or choke yourself out at the far end if you don’t stop.”

And, sometimes, Mrs. Wigglebottom, when she’s feeling sassy, will walk around the livingroom going “Oroorooroo” as if she thinks we’re just the noisiest apes, filling up much of our lives with senseless nonsense which must, occasionally, be mocked. “This,” she says as she prances around the living room howling, “is what you sound like to me.”

The Winter Solstice

The winter solstice occurs tomorrow at 4:42 a.m. It marks the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and, logically, the longest night–the time when the sun seems farthest away from us.

You often hear that various solstice celebrations are rooted in some deep fear that, if we don’t coax the sun back, it will leave us forever. This may be true, but it bugs me, because it assumes our ancestors were morons. I mean, of course, there were morons then as there are now, and I would feel safe in saying that some fundamentalist segment of the population believed that the sun might leave us. Maybe they even stocked up on supplies in case this solstice really were the one that resulted in the end of the world.

But I also think that our ancestors, like us, were capable of aesthetic thought–poetic thought. And that they understood the perceived distance of the sun to be a metaphor more broadly applicable.

So, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that holidays that have sprung up around the solstice have to do with parties and gift-giving and the renewal of friendships. Just as the sun seems to move farther away until coaxed back with parties and gifts, so too do friendships and kinships ebb and flow. We coax the sun back in order to coax each other back, to renew old friendships and reestablish longtime bonds.

This solstice especially resonates for me because, right now, with the exception of the Butcher, everyone I care about is out of town. Many of them–Miss J and her lover, the Divine Ms. B, my recalcitrant brother, my parents–are on the verge of arriving. And others will be back right after the new year. But right now, I’m as far away from all the people I care about as I’m likely to be this year.

And so, I’m thinking about the earth circling the sun–or as my ancestors understood it, the sun circling the earth–moving away, moving closer, tilting towards each other, leaning away, and it reminds me of you–all you all, and how lucky I am to know you. As The Old Man says:

If you have a good friend, who you trust completely
Then go see him often.
For brambles grow and waving grass
On the rarely traveled road.
Go find a good man to hold in friendship
And listen carefully to his healing words.

I don’t get to see you as often as I’d like and I miss you guys. I hope you all have a happy holiday season.

In which I confess a deep dark secret y’all already know

I am ruthlessly afraid of heights. No, I am not ruthless about my fear–at least not intentionally, though I apologize to Miss J. for squeezing her hand so tightly as we walked across those boulders in Rhode Island and to the Butcher who’s now had to twice guide me around the Old Stone Fort because, apparently, I’m an idiot who forgot how much it scared the shit out of me the first time.

No, my fear is ruthless. It pays no attention to the logical part of my brain that says there’s no need to be afraid, you aren’t going to fall. It sneaks up on me out of nowhere and puts its arm around my shoulders and gives me a little squeeze and whispers in my ear, “You are already falling,” and starts to push on me. Then, it’s like something inside me starts screaming and, even though I can’t hear the scream, I can’t concentrate on anything else and I feel this pressure in the top of my head, just slight pressure, like the volume on the scream is just a little too loud, this scream I cannot hear, and as the pressure increases, I start to get dizzy. And this dizziness isn’t the kind of dizzy you get when you spin around too much while listening, appropriately enough, to Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy” while pretending that you are Princess Leah in love with Luke Skywalker because you’re too young to get Han Solo yet.

With that, the dizziness of a good spin or an enormous drunk, it’s as if the whole world is moving and you must hang on or stumble around to catch your balance. Instead, this dizziness transforms the world via Escher, where everything looks okay, but you cannot count on things (especially any kind of step) leading where they appear to lead. The step that goes down may go down farther than it should or not down at all. The small ditch you must jump across may widen beneath you and the opposite bank recede from your foot. The dry rocks baking in the summer sun may turn slick and muddy in the second it takes you to hop from one to the next.

No, it’s not just that those things may happen. That almost moves things over into the rational realm where they can be dealt with. It’s that, when the fear creeps in, those things ARE what will happen. And the only recourse I have is to stand utterly still.

When I was in San Diego last year, I had to navigate this convention center where the book display was not on ground level. My choices for getting up to the exhibit were either a four story tall escalator or a glassed in elevator. There was no way I was going up the escalator, but it was all I could do to get in the elevator. And getting out of the elevator was just as bad.

But folks, getting in the elevator to go down was nearly impossible. About a half an hour before I had to do it, I started to get really clammy and nervous. I can’t tell you how many times I looked around that building for an enclosed elevator. One night, I had an author lead me to the elevator. I took her arm and closed my eyes and walked it blind. Another night, Miss J. and her lover took me down. The other two nights, I had the security guards do it.

They claimed that there was another exhibitor who needed someone to hold onto them as well, but I think they just said that to make me feel better.

And the movie theater closest to my house had been virtually off-limits until I discovered the elevator, because going down the escalator from the lobby to the theaters, was more than I could do, most of the time.

All this is on my mind because we just went over to look at a potential new office space and it was up a twist of rickety stairs, across a tile porch framed by a low–too low–wall, and in a door.

On the way up, I did okay–I usually handle stepping up better than down–but once we were done looking around. . . Folks, I just stood there on that little porch as close as I could to the door and succumbed to that screamy nothing. Right there, in front of my boss and co-workers.

If I hadn’t been utterly terrified, I would have been dreadfully embarrassed.

But the whole thing led me to an interesting realization: I used to think I was afraid of falling, which would lead to landing, which would lead to death. Easy enough, and though unlikely, maybe rational. As I took the Professor once, when we were talking about this, I know it’s stupid. If I’m walking on a path next to a river, even if I fell, I’m not necessarily going to plunge into the river. I’d probably just fall onto my hands and knees on the path. If I’m walking on a sidewalk and trip, I’m not convinced I’m going to fall into traffic.

But today, as I was standing there very still as far away from the steps as I could, wracking my brain for a way to get to the ground without taking the steps, I realized that it’s not quite the falling and landing that’s the problem. It’s that, once the irrational panic sets in, I feel like every step closer to the stairs or down the steps or along the path or whatever will increase that panic, that feeling of being unmoored from the way I normally understand the world. That’s what I can’t stand, what I can’t bear to face, that silent noise that makes me deaf to myself; I’m not afraid of stepping and falling and landing–the landing would be a relief–I’m utterly terrified of stepping and falling and falling and falling and falling and falling.

Once, the Butcher and I went to meet my dad and his best friend out at the Opryland Hotel. We found my dad but couldn’t find the other Reverend. Every escalator we came to, without saying anything, the Butcher would slip his arm through mine and, once we were to the next level, he’d let go again.

That is why, sometimes, I make a pie and leave it in the fridge for him.

Pop Culture Ruination Day

Every once in a while someone will point something out to me in an off-handed way that then ruins my enjoyment of certain pop culture phenomenon. But why should I suffer alone?

I now share the following:

  • JC Chasez is what happens when Milhouse from The Simpsons grows up and gets contacts. I can no longer enjoy The Simpsons.
  • Montgomery Gentry cannot smile. Instead, they appear to sneer menacingly, even in their love songs, which leads me to spend a lot of time shuddering when I see their videos.
  • Jesse James, custom motorcycle builder extraordinare, cannot spell and posts on his message board in all caps, thus my love for him has died.
  • Both Jamie Lee Curtis and Signorney Weaver have a certain something about them that reminds me of my mom. I don’t know which is worse, the terror of watching Aliens or True Lies and seeing my mom in those situations, or having my mom come and visit and never once catching her blowing anything up or shooting anyone.
  • Shooter Jennings is friends with Kid Rock. Imagine the drunken evening that ends with you naked between the two of them.
  • The Dukes of Hazzard. Cooter, Cletus, Enis, Rosco Pervis Coltrane. . . Is it just me or do those names all sound like pet names for genitalia?

Let’s talk about the Constitution

Yesterday, Circuit Court Judge Ashley McKathan showed up in his south Alabama courtroom wearing a robe with the ten commandments embroidered on it. I’m a little intrigued–where does one get a robe with the ten commandments embroidered on it and is there time to order one for my dad, The Reverend?–and more than a little disgusted.

If we are going to talk in broad, general terms about the separation of church and state, clearly this kind of activity runs afoul of that. I had the unpleasant experience last year of explaining this very concept to my mom, who teaches elementary school, and who was all up in arms that they were not allowed to play Christmas music in the classroom that referenced Jesus. Her fellow teacher was playing the music anyway, and they felt like they were making a great victory for Jesus… I guess.

My mom is a public school teacher, just as Judge McKathan is, well, a judge, and whenever they are doing their jobs–paid with taxpayer dollars, as a public servant–they are not just Mom and Mr. McKathan, they are representatives of the State. When they do something, they are not just making an individual stand for what they perceive as right; they are making a public stand about what the Government perceives as right. If a public school teacher plays “Away in a Manger” at Christmas time or a Judge wears the ten commandments on his robe, they, as representatives of the Government (their employer) are singling out Christianity for special recognition.

And that clearly violates the spirit of the first amendment. Even if Congress hasn’t passed any particular law, the Government–embodied in public school teachers and crazy judges–is acting as if Christianity is the state religion.

Eh, fuck it. You know, maybe strict interpretation is the way to go. As long as Congress hasn’t passed any “law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” maybe we shouldn’t bother to complain.

Instead, I’m going to insist on my second amendment rights. The second amendment, for those of you who don’t have it memorized, because you aren’t either Ted Nugent or a member of the NRA, says:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

In other words, in case we ever have to rise up to protect our freedoms, we need to have adequate weaponry.

Well, folks, I’ve taken a look around the world and a rifle isn’t going to cut it. Even a Tennessee full of citizens armed with machine guns is no match for most armies. I demand the right to bear nuclear arms. Just one, a small one that will fit next to the washing machine, but one that makes me a real threat to anyone trying to encroach on my rights.

Nefarious Pets

Monday night, it was cold, but I thought that, if all the pets slept with me, it would be toasty warm and sleepable. This seemed like an especially good plan because the Butcher was at the football game and so I’d be going to bed before he even got home.

(This reminds me that a guy on my floor told me that the band Three Dog Night got its name from nights so cold you needed three dogs in bed with you to keep warm. I don’t know if this is true, but I really hope so.)

But, of course, the pets all finked out on me and went to sleep with the Butcher.

Well, last night was even colder, and even though the Butcher was out watching the extended version of “Return of the King,” I wasn’t counting on the pets for anything. I got out the electric blanket.

So, layered on my bed was me, a sheet, the electric blanket, a light blanket, and my comforter. The pets were nowhere to be found; presumably, they were in the Butcher’s bed. At some point in the night, I woke up to go to the bathroom and I realized that I no longer had the electric blanket over me. I looked to my right and there it was, nestled under the dog and the two cats, who were sleeping soundly.

I didn’t have the heart to move them, because I’m sure it took an unprecedented amount of inter-species cooperation to steal the electric blanket, but I did turn it off on them.

That New Book Smell

Oh, dear friends, today two new books arrived here at work. And they smell so good. If you are any kind of liberal arts yahoo, nothing you do has much effect on the physical world, except for books. Liberal arts majors make books and when we do, they come out of the box and into my hands and… arlghlghl… they smell so good.

My favorite private moment at work is when a new book comes in and I can open it up just a little and stick my nose in and smell the ink and the wood pulp and feel the cold paper against my cheeks.

If I were an artist, I would be an old timey letterpress printer, and I’d spend a vast amount of time in the back huffing the ink. Let it rot my brain! Let me drool all over myself. Just also always let me have that moment when the smell of fresh ink hits my nose.

Girls and Cars

Apparently, the Super Genius is also having car problems, which got me thinking about how much car problems suck, and not just for the obvious reasons–money, inconvenience, etc.

Ford Motor Company incorporated in 1903, came out with the Model T in 1908, and began to mass produce cars in 1913, which made cars affordable. In 1920, women were granted the right to vote. Coincidence?

Maybe… maybe not.

Leslie Satcher wrote this terrible song which, for some reason–maybe to provide “good girls” with an alternative to “Goodbye, Earl”–Martina McBride sang. I mean, Sweet Jesus, it contains the lyrics “There ain’t no slap-dab-a tellin'” Slap-dab-a? Slap-dab-a? That sucks so bad, I hope people get up and leave restaurants when Satcher walks in.

Anyway, somehow, in the midst of this piece of shit song, Satcher accidentally hits on the fundamental truth of girls and cars: “I’ve got a Mustang / It’ll do 80 / You don’t have to be my baby.”

If I have my car, I can leave. And when I’m in my car, I’m as fast as my car can go, as powerful as the engine under the hood, as sleek as Detroit sees fit. In my car, I can go anywhere and see anything. I can’t walk down Dickerson at night, but I can drive down it.

Thanks to my car, if you can drive there, I can go there. Thanks to my car, I can spend an afternoon with the sun roof open and the windows down and the dog in the passenger seat with her head out the window, with the Spanglish version of Cypress Hill’s greatest hits blaring on the radio. I’m not thinking about the dishes that need doing or the things that need dusting or the dog hair that needs up off the couch. I’m not too fat or too smart or too loud or too ungraceful or too ungrateful or too ugly or too much someone’s friend for them to date or too “good for them” or too anything. No one can nag me about getting married and settling down and getting back to church and doing all the things good girls should.

I’m just in my car with the warm sun on my face, too far from anything to worry about it.

My car makes my freedom possible.

And when my car makes a funny noise or rejects its muffler for some reason or decides not to start or starts but dies at stop signs or falls apart in some terrible way as I’m flying down the interstate at 80 miles an hour, it’s not just my car; it’s my freedom.

The only think that makes 80% of the ordinary crap we have to do even remotely bearable is that we’re not trapped by it. At any minute, we can get in our cars and leave it all behind. In other words, as long as the car is running, I’m here because I choose to be, not because I have to be.

Under Cars

argh… Blogger ate my whole post

The point of which was that though the Professor and I were smart enough to tie up her muffler, we were not smart enough to jack up her car and retie it once it fell down again. Also, to say that every man I talked to yesterday or today–my dad, the Butcher, the Redheaded Kid, the Sheik, the Man from GM, etc.–was shocked that we did not think to put the car up on the jack and also would have driven it home as is, assured that the sparks would not set the car on fire.

The Kind of Thing that Goes Terribly Wrong with Chili

So, on Friday, I invited the Professor over for chili. The Butcher was supposed to go grocery shopping for the much-needed ingredients, but he forgot the list. We decided that was fine, he’d just go after work and we’d have a very late supper.

This is also fine. Though I usually go to bed at 9:30, I figured that I could stay up late one evening and eat at 9:30 instead.

The only unfortunate side-effect to preparing food when you’re usually preparing for bed is that you might not be thinking too clearly.

For instance, you might chop up a jalapeno pepper to put in your chili. You might just give a cursory rinse off to your hands. You might then, hours later, itch your eye.

Yes, that’s right. You might be stupid enough to stick your finger in your eye.

If you’ve never been that stupid, I don’t know if words can express how much it hurts. If you have been that stupid, stop reading now, because I’m going to try to describe it and I want to spare you the agony of remembering it.

Imagine you get soap in your eye. Then imagine that your eye starts to tear up and you think “Ah, well, this sucks, but the tears will wash the soap out of my eye.” But instead, the tear makes the soap in your eye intensify and spread around your eyeball and then leak out onto the soft tissue of your eye and then it’s not soap at all, but gasoline and it’s on fire. Your eye is on fire.

That’s what it feels like. Having your eye catch fire and then dragged through rusty barbed wire.

But, it was pretty good chili.

The Butcher

The Butcher cooked chicken for me Wednesday night and the best pot roast ever last night.

I just had to brag.

A day will come when he also learns the art of the side dish and that man will be unstoppable.

Marry him while you can, girls! (Or move him to Massachusetts, and marry him while you can, boys!)

My only requirement for a future brother or sister-in-law is that he or she lets the Butcher come over every once in a while and move heavy things around.

Sad Songs

Speaking of the 101st has got me thinking of sad songs (hang with me, you’ll see the connection in a second). I love to sing, though I’m not very good at it. I love to sing in the shower. I love to sing along with the radio. I love to make up songs to sing to the Butcher in order to annoy him with my creativity. I’ve even got the greatest remake of “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” about the dog, which I taught to my mom so that we could sing it together at Thanksgiving.

But there are just some songs that are so sad that I find them unsingable. When I was little, it was “Puff, The Magic Dragon,” which I still find incredibly sad. I hope it really is about marijuana, because a kid deciding he doesn’t want to get high any more is a lot easier to take than Jackie growing out of his friendship with Puff. Either way, I can’t sing that song without crying.

The absolutely worst sad song, I think, is “Seven Spanish Angels,” which Ray Charles and Willie Nelson sang as a duet. I don’t know who Troy Seals and Eddie Setser are, but goddamn, their words rip my heart out. I’m tearing up right now just trying to find the lyrics for you. From the first line–“He looked down into her blue eyes and said ‘Say a prayer for me.'”–to when he tells her that they can take him back to Texas, but they won’t take him back alive–to when she picks up his smoking gun and aims it at the riders so that they kill her, too… it just does me in.

Then, there’s the traditional impossible-to-sing song, “Amazing Grace,” which gets sung at every funeral and quite a few of the weddings on my dad’s side of the family. I never can get through that one.

There are also the stealth sad songs. The most famous one is probably “You are my Sunshine” which, when I was little, we used to go around and sing to old people at the nursing home. Egad! How unwittingly heartless of us! What if someone comes around to my nursing home when I’m 95 and sings “Seven Spanish Angels”? I hope they’re ready for some out and out bawling.

Strangely enough, all the old people always clapped and sang along–clearly because it’s so upbeat. It’s got to be upbeat or it’d be unbearable. Here’s this singer, so in love with someone who doesn’t get the depths of his feelings for her, nor her affect on him, telling her that she’s the center of his universe (or at least his solar system) but finding his confessions mean nothing. The first verse is almost perfect in it’s depressing plainness: “The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping, I dreamed I held you in my arms. When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken and I hung my head and I cried.” Ouch.

However, upon moving to Tennessee, I’ve discovered that one of the most seemingly innocuous songs on the oldies station, is actually one of its most terribly depressing–“Last Train to Clarksville.”

When I was little, I wondered why he didn’t know if he’d ever be coming home, and I think every time we drove by Clarksville on our way to another vacation in fabulous Lebanon, Tennessee, I’d make my parents play that song and ask them about it. I thought maybe he was going to college and didn’t know if he’d get back as often as he’d like. My dad’s explanation was that Clarksville is a very violent city and was once the murder capitol of the USA and the singer was afraid of street crime.

Clearly, my dad is full of shit, because even in terms of violent places in Tennessee, you’re in more danger in Memphis or, say, walking your dog along the Natchez Trace, than you are in Clarksville, but also, this goes to show that it’s not just me, but my whole family who are idiots.

Any armchair musicologist ought to ask a few obvious questions about that song–all of which every smart-ass in my family failed to do–Why, of all the rinky-dink towns in America is this song set in Clarksville? What’s the significance of that? Under what circumstances might a young man find himself in a “noisy railroad station all alone” unsure if he’s ever coming home? Especially in 1966?

Yes, my dear friends, even though we drove by Clarksville, Tennessee at least once a year, even though we saw all the signs for Fort Campbell, Kentucky, right there adjacent to Clarksville, home of the 101st Airborne, it never once occurred to us that the singer might be lonely and uncertain and wanting to see his sweetie one more time because he was going off to war.

Now, my coworker and I have just had a heated discussion about whether that’s the correct interpretation of the song. I, being an English major, of course, don’t believe in “correct” interpretations, just likely and unlikely interpretations. She, being a business person, believes it’s highly unlikely that this song is anything other than a boy leaving home for the first time.

But I’m tainted by the war interpretation. It’s gone from being an ordinary light-hearted song to being a song I can’t sing. The uncertainty is what does it. If he was uncertain about ever coming home because he was off to start his adult life, I could sing it happily.

But I suspect he’s desperately afraid he might die, and that makes it impossible for me to get through. It’s like reaching into the dishwater to open the drain and cutting yourself on the knife you forgot was under the bubbles, trying to sing this song that ought to be a bit of fluffy nothing by a pre-fab make-believe band, but that has at it’s heart the most ancient objection to war–the potential death of well-loved young people.

Things the Nashville Tourism Board Won’t Tell You

For a town heavily reliant on tourism dollars, Nashville sure hates tourists. How much does Nashville hate tourists? Enough that we’ve developed a whole industry–country music–solely to encourage tourists to identify themselves by wearing silly hats and boots (thinking it will make them more authentically country), so that we can spot them from a distance and avoid them.

Why do we hate tourists so much? Because tourists get in the way of four out of the five things Nashvillians love best.

1. Eating. Tourists take up valuable table space at our favorite restaurants. We’ve tried very hard to encourage them that eating at the Nashville Hard Rock is as real as it gets, but some of them still manage to find their way to the Pancake Pantry or Swett’s so that we have to stand in line behind them.

2. Driving. Sure, getting around Nashville can be a challenge, since all the straight roads have at least three different names–1st avenue/Hermitage/Lebanon Road, for example–and all the curvy roads are named Old Hickory Boulevard. But getting to any nearby town (in order to eat there, of course) is easy enough because the roads that go to those towns have those names–Charlotte Pike, Lebanon Pike, Franklin Pike, Murphreesboro Pike, Clarksville Pike, etc. and when you need to get back to Nashville, those same roads in the other direction are all named the Nashville Pike.

But all the tourists who think the have to stay out at the Opryland Hotel end up clogging up our interstates as they drive into downtown or take a wrong turn off and end up circling the town on Briley Parkway/440 congesting traffic for the rest of us.

3. Hanging out with our dogs. Every time I take my dog to play in the fountain at the Bicentennial Mall, you should see the dirty looks I get from folks. Tourists, my dog is a lot cleaner than your filthy kids, and they’re playing in the fountain. Also, if the mall is going to have a Bass Pro Shop, it sure seems reasonable that you should be able to bring your hunting dogs in there.

4. Reminiscing about how things used to be. The most Nashville of pastimes is refusing to let go of things that are no longer there. For instance, if you were to get directions from the Union Station Hotel to the Pancake Pantry from a non-Nashvillian, she would tell you to get on Broadway, to stay on Broadway as West End splits off from it, and to keep going straight even after it becomes 21st Avenue. She then will say that once you get past Wedgewood, you’ll see the Pancake Pantry on your left.

A Nashvillian will say, “Well, come on out of the old train station and head on down past Roy Orbison’s building. You don’t want to be on the street with the bank that used to be First Union before it was Firstar, before it was whatever it is now. That’s one street over too far. But it’s fine if you’re there. Just keep coming until you get to where the old IHOP used to be and head on down towards where the old Burger King was. You’ll see where the University of Nashville was to your left. When you get to the road Ward Belmont was on, go just past that and you’ll see the Pancake Pantry to your left.”

For instance, when I was giving directions to my parents so that they could find their hotel at Thanksgiving, I said, “You’re staying at the Holiday Inn behind the old Cooker.” How Nashville is the Professor becoming? She refuses to believe the Cooker is closed.

But, 5. Being Contrary. It’s not just a Nashville pastime, it’s the hallmark of every Tennessean. If you want to understand the true heart of Tennessee, understand its contrary nature.

“You’re part of North Carolina.”

“No, we’re not.”

“You’re a state called Franklin.”

“No, we’re not.”

“Okay, fine. You’re Tennessee.”

“No, we’re not.”

“Hey, it’s already on the maps.”

“Well, fine, we’re Tennessee, but we’re annexing Kentucky the first chance we get.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Okay, but we’re going to teach our kids that, regardless of where Fort Campbell is, the 101st is really ours.”

——

Or how’s this for contrary? Lincoln’s vice president, Andrew Johnson, from Tennessee, pissed off the South by refusing to support secession, pissed off Frederick Douglass by being a racist, pissed off Mary Todd by not showing her the customary acts of condolence, was a strong proponent of slavery before the War, but a strong proponent of the Union during the war, and he supported emancipation, but not for people enslaved in Tennessee.

——-

Or Tennessee’s Empress, herself, Bessie Smith, the greatest blues singer of all times–talented, wealthy, brilliant, and amazing, yet she was a foul-mouthed, heavy drinker whose affairs with both men and women usually ended violently.

——-

Or how about the guy who runs the Carter House down in Franklin, who is a staunch Confederate sympathizer, but will not speak John Bell Hood’s name, he hates him so much?

——

Or, to bring it full circle, how about the fact that our economy depends on tourism, but we all hate tourists?

The Day of Hobbits

Yesterday, I encountered hobbits, twice. The first incident was at the retirement party for the man who hired me here. During his going-away speech, he gave Bilbo’s going-away speech, which is, as follows: “I don’t know half of you as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”

Then, at home, the Redheaded Kid came over to watch the game and I made some joke about how his mother must think we’re a bad influence on him as he seems to be in the process of renouncing* the Catholic faith. He said that he told his mom we were like hobbits, in that we sit around and talk about things all the time.

That cracks me up.

* The Professor and I were once talking about a scholar she knows who’s renounced Marxism, which totally cracked me up. I was like, “Of course,” because who other than Marxists renounce anything? Everyone else just stops doing it, but Marxists (or ex-Marxists) renounce it. The Professor claims to have renounced Christianity and, if this is the case, I feel very cheated, as I have never been to a renunciation, and would like to go.

When I finally gave up on it (Christianity, not renouncing things), it was more like deciding not to go see that relative one can no longer stand. Nothing formal, just started being it less and less and then one day, I wasn’t any more.

But if I can talk the Professor into some kind of public renunciation of something–Christianity, Marxism, Aleister Crowley, cottage cheese, whatever–that’s going to be great. I wonder what one wears to a renouncing? Something vibrant, I bet.

If the Professor renounces a bunch of things, then I could renounce renouncing and we could have a public feud that fueled our respective fames, even as we privately continued to be friends.

See, this is why there are still Marxists and ex-Marxists; it’s so much fun.

The Sheriff around these here parts

So, the old couch is still sitting outside near the street because the Butcher felt it was only his responsibility to get it out of the house and not out of our lives. So, today, in the midst of doing actual work, I also called around to see who will pick up a couch and take it away.

Here’s the funny thing: it’s the Sheriff’s department. Apparently, since the Davidson County Sheriff has no real law enforcement role now that metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County are the same thing, the role of the Sheriff’s department is primarily to find something to do with Davidson County’s inmates–things like bulk trash pick-up.

Isn’t that weird? I wonder if folks from the Sheriff’s department drive around town gazing enviously upon the Metro Police, missing the days when they also had the power to carry a gun?

The Rising Star Fife and Drum Band

Last night the Professor and I went to see the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, who were opening for the North Mississippi All-Stars. It was tremendous, these three guys from Senatobia, Mississippi –two playing snare and one on the base drum winding their way through the crowd playing old marching cadences they learned from Otha Turner. Writing it like that makes it sound strange and boring, but it’s definitely not boring.

It’s strange, though, that’s for sure, especially when they start to sing. They sing in this stylized, droning monotone (though, for their last song, they did a really beautiful three-part harmony) that means there is no melody for you to focus on, instead, it’s just you and the steady throb of marching drums.

And they hold their snare drum sticks the old fashioned way. Drummers now days grab hold of both sticks as if the sticks are handlebars and rhythm is something that must be torn away from the drum violently through those sticks and the drummers’ wrists.

But it used to be that the drummer approached the snare drum palms up, with the sticks playing across the open face of the hand, dancing along loosely between the give of the thumb, the rock of the wrist, and the bounce of the drum head.

Is there a difference, other than the fundamental philosophical one? Does it sound different? I don’t know. It seems to me to sound different, that the snare sounds lighter and brighter, but I haven’t asked the Professor or the Butcher what they think, and both are in a better position than me to know.

The North Mississippi All-Stars were fine, as well, and after they sang one song, the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band came back on stage and joined them for the rest of the set, so if you like your blues drum-driven, I highly recommend seeing them this way.

The Guy Down the Hall

Sadly, I went to the going-away party for the guy down the hall on Friday. This reduces the number of people I can go to lunch with who don’t work with me by a third. So, I’m bummed. Not that I don’t like the people that I work with, of course. It’s just that some days, a girl really needs to go eat greasy burgers with someone who hasn’t annoyed her at a staff meeting or become annoyed with her for stealing all the interns.

The guy down the hall is responsible for introducing me to Ted’s, which we affectionately refer to as Ted’s Kill It and Grill It, though I’m sure it has some other, classier name. Miss J., her lover, and I went there to eat last weekend and I am happy to report that her lover and she were thrilled with being able to order anything on the menu in three iterations: chicken, beef, and buffalo. I don’t know if I’ve converted them into full-time buffalo eaters, but they both rose to the challenge of eating a half a pound of it in one sitting.

The guy who is no longer down the hall insists I’ll never see him again. This makes me very sad, especially since I’ll have not chance to tease him about being such a drama queen.

Dolf Lundgren

I love Dolf Lundgren. I have since his stint as an evil robot in Universal Soldier (though, to be fair, he pretty much plays some kind of robot in all his movies, because the boy cannot act). Tall, handsome, brilliant… I just can’t resist him.

However, yesterday, as we were laying on the new green couch, we caught one of his movies–The Peacekeeper–which also starred, I swear, Montel Williams. The movie was as craptastic as one might expect from Showtime in the afternoon, and Dolf’s acting was… well, wooden and forced (though his American accent is coming along nicely), just as one would hope, and the special effects were appropriately ridiculous. It should have been a great time.

But, boys and girls, often in the movie, Dolf was called on to run dramatically and, whoa, he runs so hilariously that the Butcher and I thought it was a joke at first. I don’t know if I can salvage my Dolf Lundgren love unless the Shill immediately explains that holding your arms stiffly at your side, as if you are made out of Legos, and not moving your thighs, but only flailing your shins rapidly back and forth, is somehow conducive to speed.

The man has a black belt in Karate and a master’s degree in chemical engineering. How can he run like such a doofus? How can I have never noticed before?

But speaking of hilariously craptastic movies, perhaps you’ve seen the ads for The Librarian: Quest for the Spear. Yes, they’ve made an action adventure movie starring a librarian. As if that weren’t stretching things just a little, the TNT website explains that the 30 year old librarian has been kicked out of school after earning 22 degrees. I just want to say that I know quite a few of you who are 30 and have yet to earn more than three. Y’all better step up if you want a movie inspired by you.

But that got me thinking about movies that might be inspired by your lives.

The Corporate Shill: Quest for a Drunken Evening with the In-Laws
The Super Genius Uses her Law Degree to Sue the Makers of ‘The Librarian.’
The Sheik: 30 Countries, 30 Nights, 30 Girls
The Professor: The Curse of the Fuzzy Sweater
The Butcher and the Stinky Couch
Mrs. Wigglebottom Goes for a Walk
Miss J and her Lover a film by Peter Greenaway
The Importance of Being the Divine Ms. B.

Ha, okay, maybe those are funny only to me.