The New Kitty Has a Usefulness about Her

Tonight was my last scheduled reading for A City of Ghosts. It was over at The Front Porch at the Scarritt-Bennett Center and it was wonderful. There were maybe twenty people there… maybe not quite twenty… but I would say that most of them I did not know in person. I knew a bunch of folks from Twitter but there were also a bunch of people I did not know at all.

And there were cookies shaped like ghosts!

It was just awesome.

And then I came home in time to do my stuff. This is the seventh night. Usually, I am done before Halloween, so I wasn’t sure what tonight would be like, but I knew what one does when one is doing what I’m doing on Halloween.

So, I took a candle and went out over the creek and stood between the creek and the back hedge, between the earth and the night sky, and found the milky way, and raised my candle and waited for whoever needed a light to find his or her way.

And then there was a great rustling in the brush and I called out, “Hey, stop that nonsense,” in case it was a coyote coming too close in.

But it was just the new kitty, who had, apparently, come out of nowhere to walk me back to the house.

And so, I followed, my candle over my head to light our way and I got to the back of the house and the regular light came on. So I blew my candle out.

There was a huge crash behind us, but I didn’t turn around.

Most nights, a thing like that could make a gal jump.

Nights like this, you follow your cat home and trust that whatever is out there is taking care of its own business.

You do your duty and leave the rest to the dead.

Still, I was pleased to find that the new kitty knew what she should do. You can’t teach cats anything, or I can’t anyway, so I’m kind of tickled to see that she gets this.

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31. The Ghost of Water

“I still dream I am drowning,” she says to me. “Some mornings I wake up and I can’t catch my breath, can’t make my lungs take in air, again.

“I can’t stand it. I still see water everywhere, how the bottoms of trees are still so dirty, even with all of this rain. And I see that other people don’t see it. I feel like I’m seeing a ghost. The empty shells of houses, the garbage still caught in fences. Everywhere I look is the ghost of water. How can they not see it?”

I had come to ask her about another ghost, a particular Alabaman who seems to haunt all over town with whom it was rumored she’d had a particularly strange run in, but this is what she wanted to talk about, for the little bit that she wanted to talk. She then bowed her head at her dressing table and squeezed her eyes shut. It felt so private that I almost turned away.

And then she sat up straight, wiped each eye with just the edge of her finger, and then followed that with the blotting of a tissue.

“Well,” she said, “No one came to see me being a big ole baby about this.” And so she stared in the mirror, fussing with her hair, trying on two or three different smiles, and finally, sliding into her sequined jacket.

And just like that, she was the singer, grateful and delighted to be performing for her audience, as if she had no care in the world, but how to best entertain you. I was struck by the thought of all the women in this city who have steeled themselves by swallowing their grief, as if showing you a sweet face, no matter the circumstances, was the bodily equivalent of “Bless your heart.”

It was an act designed to wither you, if you knew how to read it. But one you could perform in public and never be taken as rude by the clueless people you meant it towards.

She went over to the door frame with an old tube of lipstick and made a mark, right at chin level, like you would to measure the growth of a child.

“I know,” she said, “We’re all supposed to be over it by now. But I still need this.”

“What is that?” I said.

“That’s how high the water came up in my house. There’s not a place I go now I don’t leave the water’s mark.”

Drama and Excitement at Taste of N’awlins

We went to the Taste of N’awlins for the Butcher’s birthday with some friends. By chance, they were having all you could eat shrimp, which meant we got to carry on the Butcher’s usual birthday tradition without having to go to Red Lobster.

I still got the jambalaya, though. And damn, it was tasty.

But that was not the drama and excitement.

No, the drama and excitement was that they had live music. Now, we walked in and I was like “Live music?! Damn it, is there not one non-chain place in this town that doesn’t have live music?” but the singer was all “You can’t go anywhere in Nashville and hear live music with your dinner. We’re bringing music back to Music City! Especially Cheatham County!” And, well, fuck it, if you’re going to call Cheatham County part of Music City, I suppose there are a lot of places you can go and just eat your dinner and not have someone singing too loud at you.

(Not to frighten you off from Taste of N’awlins. Just, if you go, ask to be seated on the non-music side.)

Shoot, I expect one of the reasons people move to Cheatham county these days is to get away from dinner performances.

I know this sounds a little grouchy on my part, but believe me, everyone has shit-tons of talent in Nashville. There is no shortage of places you can go and hear fabulous music and have some dinner and drink some drinks. Finding good places where you can eat a meal and talk and be heard by the people at your table and know the food is going to be outstanding? Slowly shrinking to just Southern Bred.

So, of course, the performer last night was a back-up singer for Bill Anderson so she was telling stories about her time performing at the Opry. And she had a nice little crowd of folks there to see her. And she introduced them.

And many of them were “also Southern gospel singers.”

I put that in quotes because it’s also important to realize that, in Nashville, if someone’s Christianity comes up in ways that seem weirdly unbidden, something weird and unbidden is about to go down. Don’t get me wrong, there are 99 million ways someone’s Christianity might come up and it doesn’t set off warning signals.

“Where’d you get that fabulous sweater?” “Oh, our church had this awesome craft fair.”

“Oh, Betsy, a woman at church was telling me about this amazing book you should read.”

“Are you okay?” “Yeah, yeah, I’m just still trying to process our pastor’s sermon.”

“I’m going to Belize with my mission group!”

etc.

But you live here long enough and you start to recognize the wholly inappropriate bringing up of one’s Christianity and the dude she was about to bring on stage “also being a Southern Gospel singer”? Something about it just struck me as “Oh, lord, this is about to get weird.”

And it did!

They knew each other from back in the day. They’d sang together frequently and recorded some demos together. He was there, last night, with his wife and large passel of children. He pretended, briefly, that he didn’t want to intrude and then, he got up at the mic and they began to sing.

I should mention that, for those of you who weren’t alive in the 70s and early 80s, you might have this idea that music back then was all Zeppelin and disco and punk and Southern Rock and Outlaw country–each a genre of music that, though not always mixing well, shared a “Fuck you, outsiders” ethos, though the outsiders were often listeners of the other genres.

That is because those of us who did live through that era have been protecting you from the truth. And I will just say that, no matter what song this woman sang, it ended up sounding like the Music of the 70s and 80s We are Trying to Pretend Never Existed.

And so, when she started that tinkly synth beginning “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love for You” I almost whooped with delight! I mean, no, I could live my whole life never hearing that song again, but it was perfect. And then she started going into how this was their song, their favorite song to sing together.

And my eyes must have gotten big and the guy across the table was like “What?” and I laughed. The Butcher said, “This must be what crashing a wedding is like.”

And then they began to sing.

And the dude across from me was like “Who would sing this song with a woman in front of his wife?!” And, in fact, as it went on, the wife seemed to grow more and more visibly uncomfortable.

It was, quite possible, the strangest thing I’d seen all week, these two folks singing this song that was deeply important to them in a way that suggested a long, intimate history, in front of dude’s wife who seemed to be quietly praying that the kids weren’t paying attention.

Anyway, then late they played “Why Me Lord” and folks at the table were all “Oh god, why do we have to listen to a hymn?” and I tried to argue that it wasn’t a hymn when Kris Kristofferson did it, but then I realized I was completely wrong. It’s just that, when Krisofferson does it, it sounds like a hymn that is appropriate for singing over beers.

Anyway, you can’t use your Groupon on things like All You Can Eat Shrimp. Fair warning.

30. Lucy White

Lucy White was a woman so long ago she barely remembers it. She remembers the boards she put down on the floor of the shack so that she could cross, without getting her feet wet, from her bed to the fireplace when it rained and the water streamed through the low spot in the dirt floor. She remembers the smell of mash bubbling in the still. And she has a sense that she felt satisfied when she finally laid down under the dirt.

She remembers that her life was hard.

And she delights in how easy it is for the folks who live on her land now. She remembers the first indoor stove she saw, how she would open and shut the door, marveling at the luxury of not having to cook over an open fire. And now? Now she will turn on stovetops that don’t even get hot unless you put a pan on them. And she will rummage around in people’s cabinets, trying every pan.

She remembers trying to nurse her first baby, how afraid she was, how hard it was. And she will watch young mothers with their first babies and the luxuries of bottles and formula.  She loves to help. She will coo over a fat baby. She will press the buttons on the microwave while you fish breast milk out of the freezer.

And don’t even get her started on toilets. She will flush your toilet fifty times in a row, if she thinks it won’t bother you too much.

She loved to watch them race horses down the Pike. And then bicycles, and now cars. She is always yelling, “Faster, faster, faster,” though it’s rare that anyone hears her.

For a long time, after she was dead, she kept waiting for someone to show up and point her to where she was supposed to be. No one came. She thought maybe she’d been forgotten.

But now, she thinks, “Here I am, where I should be.”

Down to the Hall of Fame

I had to go down to the Hall of Fame this afternoon for work, to hear Marshall Chapman speak. It was good fun. She’s a great entertainer and she and Jay Orr play off each other so nicely.

I got to park in the cage out back and I have to tell you, they have the best herb garden I have ever seen in real life. It’s everything I wish my herb garden was–healthy looking and not full of weeds.

Ha ha ha ha ha.

Anyway, it always tickles me–that little herb garden right outside their back door.

29. Mason’s Restaurant

It’s pretty easy to be the youngest person in Mason’s Restaurant by a couple of decades, even if you’re in your 50s. Don’t let this dissuade you from going, though.

Mason’s is the kind of place where you can buy enough food to fill your whole table and pay ten dollars for it–eggs and bacon and toast and coffee and biscuits with or without gravy, maybe some ham, you want some sausage? Maybe some pancakes? French toast?

It’s as good as Hermitage Cafe, but without the overnight hours and all the cops at the counter.

“Do y’all get famous people in here?” I ask one morning.

“Oh, sure,” my waitress says. “Bill Monroe came in all the time before he died. And Lefty Frizzell…”

“Oh, kids today don’t know who Lefty Frizzell is,” one of the other waitresses said.

“I do, too, know who Lefty Frizzell is,” I said, feeling a little indignant.

“He stops by every once in a while for breakfast,” My waitress said. “You know, he’s just down the road here.”

“He’s dead,” I said.

“Oh, we all know that,” she said. “But his money’s good and he tips well, so we don’t mind.”

The other waitress came by, “She can speak for herself. It gives me the willies.”

“Well, bless your heart, I hope you don’t let on when he’s here,” my waitress said.

“Of course not,” the other waitress scoffed. “Unlike some people, I am not rude.”

“One time, I wouldn’t let her husband come in and wait while we closed, fifteen years ago, and she still won’t let me forget it.”

Haslam Doesn’t Want to Talk Specifics

From The Tennessean:

Haslam said reporters are more interested in focusing on conflicts than on the candidates’ plans for the state budget. “You guys want to focus on those issues,” he said. “We’ve had 10 days of gun stories, and not one saying, ‘Yeah, I wonder who has done their homework on the budget.’ “

So Andrea Zelenski tries:

But he offered few specifics Thursday when asked by reporters what departments or programs he’d propose trimming should he assume the state’s highest elected office and with it an expected $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

So, that explains why he wouldn’t answer my Planned Parenthood questions. He doesn’t actually want to talk about the budget.

I’m going to be honest. I’m concerned that he’s stupid. Some of the stuff that he’s fucking up? A competent politician and his campaign should have been prepared for–“Hey, we’re going to talk about cutting state funding to Planned Parenthood! Okay, what are the five or six questions we’re bound to get about that? What will our answers be?” Not “Talk about cutting state funding for Planned Parenthood, get asked the questions folks always ask when this nonsense comes up, dick around for days, and then refuse to answer.”

Or the whole gun thing? He didn’t even know that Pilot employees can’t have guns in their locked cars in Pilot parking lots while he’s saying employees of all companies should be allowed to have guns in their locked cars in company parking lots? I mean, I don’t expect Haslam to know every detail of every policy at Pilot, but who doesn’t motherfucking check before shooting off his mouth?

They say early voting is way, way down this year and I have to think that it is, in part, because no matter who your candidate supposedly is, he kind of sucks.

Something to Read

I just really like this post, the whole thing, so I won’t bother to quote any of it. But it reminds me of the Tennessee Obesity Task Force stuff. We’re supposed to believe they’re concerned about the health of Tennesseans, but their literature includes pictures of fat people designed to show us as slobs or clowns, as if being gross to look at or funny to look at has anything to do with health.

Briefly on O’Donnell

In a way, I find the whole thing kind of baffling. It’s hard for me to understand what kind of guy would have a naked woman in his bed and be all “ew, pubic hair” and then brag about it in public. Does he not understand that women’s bodies have a lot of variety? I don’t like the “they want women to look like a little girl!” argument either. First, it’s just hair. Cut it, dye it, trim it, remove it, grow it out as far as it will go–whatever floats your boat. As long as you’re doing it for fun and not because some douchebag requires it of you, I do not give a shit.

But second, I was in a bachelor’s bathroom the other day and his Penthouse was right by the toilet. I, being an intrepid blogger, picked it up and looked at it, and, of course, the women in it were hair-free. I didn’t particularly find that disturbing. After all, when your aim is to give the viewer as clear a shot of things normally obscured by labia and hair, it makes sense to hold the labia apart and remove the hair. What I found disturbing was that almost all of the variations in coloring that you’d normally find on a woman’s nether-regions, regardless of age, were gone. If you are familiar with labia, you know that everything inside them is kind of slick and more the color of the inside of your mouth than of your skin and some areas are darker or lighter than others.

Not on these gals. It was all flesh colored except right around the vaginal opening and around their very small inner labia and clitoris. So, instead of this great fleshy moist region (hairy or not), there was this almost unrecognizable non-pink hairless landscape with only the tiniest hint of moisture right at the vaginal opening. It was as if this had been photoshopped to this. It’s not just the shrubbery that’s missing. There appear to be vital working bits gone. And the kinds of working bits that work for the person with the cooter. It’s as if everything that suggests a female sexual response more complex than “rub this one spot; poke this one spot” is erased.

And that, to me, is where the “they look like little girls” critique falls short. This goes beyond making your cooter resemble a little girl’s. This gets into a cooter aesthetic that removes all individuality and variance and humanity from a part of our bodies most associated with being embodied in a human body.

You’d think a man who came to understand he didn’t actually know one way women’s bodies might differ from each other would be kind of embarrassed, that he’d tell that story as if he were the fool. But not this dude. He’s all “Amirite?” It does not occur to him, even briefly, that he’s the one who looks like a dumbass in that story. That’s bewildering. And would be hilarious except that there’s a real woman at the butt end of this.

But what also troubles me is that O’Donnell does not and has never had a prayer of winning. That’s no knock on her. Those are just the facts on the ground. So, why does she have to be knocked down so hard? Is it a warning to other female politicians? That part of running for office is this kind of bullshit?

Just who is supposed to be learning a lesson here, I wonder?

28. The Couchville Lights

Back then, they had a way of raising children as if the Devil was in them and your foremost job as a parent was to drive him out. Not every parent took this way, but it was considered best if you minded your own business if that’s how your neighbor chose to raise his.

Even in that climate, folks were worried that John Higgins would kill his son, Pete. It was pretty common for folks to be sitting up at the Couch’s grocery store and the subject of Pete would come up. Should someone go check on him? Should someone try to get in contact with his mother’s people? Should the pastor talk with John about it?

If two or three days went by and no one had seen Pete, one of the Couch boys would be dispatched to make sure he was still alive. One time, the orneriest of the Couch boys had arrived out at the Higgins’ farm to find John whaling on Pete with a belt, while Pete was curled up on the ground. That Couch boy tried to get between them and John beat the shit out of him.

That resulted in some of the townsmen going out to the farm and having a little talk with John, but it didn’t improve Pete’s lot any.

There was some thought that, once Pete got John’s size, it would end. Pete would turn on him just once, drop the old man, and that would settle it.

That turned out to not be the case. Pete never stood up to him. He would wake up, go through his day, doing his chores, sometimes running to town, come on home, make dinner for the both of them, and whatever his dad did to him, Pete just took it.

When he was fifteen, his dad did finally kill him. And even old John Higgins knew this was a bridge too far. Folks will overlook a lot–even pounding on someone else’s kid–but they won’t overlook a murder.

And so, he waited until nightfall and carried Pete’s body down to Stone’s River, slit his throat, and dropped him in. It’d been a wet enough spring that the river was deep enough to carry that boy clear out of sight.

Old John figured that, in the morning, he would raise a fuss about the boy running off and most everyone would figure Pete had finally got fed up and that would be the end of it.

And so, he came home, kicked his boots off, and finally fell asleep. It’s said that he dreamed of his dead wife, but I think folks just throw that detail in there to try to suggest there was something redeemable about him.

In the morning, John awoke to the sound of a pan clanking on the stove and, after a second, the smell of breakfast cooking. He opened his eyes, slowly rolled out of bed, and stumbled to the kitchen. There was Pete, same as always, fixing up some eggs and bacon.

John’s first thought was, “Well, damn, I guess I didn’t kill him.” So, he sat at the table, like any other morning, and waited on breakfast. When the boy came close to drop the plate in front of him, John noted that he smelled wet, and, when the father looked up at the son, John saw a red gash, like a grin, running from ear to ear under the boy’s chin.

Now, I imagine John was terrified, at first, but it became pretty quickly apparent that, other than Pete being dead, circumstances didn’t change much. Pete still fixed all the meals, still did all his chores and some of John’s, and still wrangled the mule and the two pigs. Even the dog would still curl up at Pete’s feet. The only difference was the Pete never talked and never slept. At night, even though it was getting warm, all he wanted to do was sit by the fire.

Pete’d make his way up to the store every once in a while and folks would stop to stare, but no one was quite sure what to do.  They all knew he was dead. Shoot, the longer he was up walking around, the more apparent it became. His skin took on a translucent gray tone and sometimes he’d come in with a broken finger all hanging loose and crooked at the end of his hand. And, of course, there was the gash at his throat.

Finally, the orneriest Couch boy, himself nearing 18, had had enough.

“Y’all let that bastard kill him,” he said in disgust, “and now you’re going to let that be his afterlife?”

“Well, what are we supposed to do?” They asked. “It’s not really our business.”

“Maybe we really ought to get in touch with his mama’s people,” they said.

“Are you kidding me?!” Couch said. “My whole life… my whole life…and even still…” He shook his head, and walked out of the store in disgust.

Late that night, he made his way over to the Higgins place. He peered in a window and saw the bedroom door shut. Pete sat by the fire, staring at nothing. Couch knocked softly on the window. Pete slowly turned his head and looked. Couch lightly knocked again. Pete came to the door, unlocked it, and stepped outside.

“Hey,” Couch said, softly. “Are you all right? Pete, you know you’re dead, right?”

And Pete nodded, his big eyes filling with tears.

“Then why are you still here?”

And Pete said, in a cracking voice that hadn’t spoken in months, “I can’t find my soul.”

Couch didn’t quite know what to make of it. “Excuse me?”

Pete just repeated, mournfully, “I can’t find my soul.”

Couch said, “Well, where did you last have it?”

And Pete said, “When I was five. I put it in a bottle and hid it so it’d be safe and my Dad couldn’t break it.”

Well, this Couch may have been the orneriest of the bunch, but even he could not hear this and not get a little choked up.

“Okay,” Couch said, “Okay. Where did you hide it?”

“I remember putting it under the porch,” Pete said. “But I got problems. My head only stays on if I stay upright. My fingers keep breaking. And I dug as much as I could, but…”

“Well, you’re in a spot,” Couch said. “But I’m going to help you. You just get your Dad good and drunk tomorrow night and while he’s sleeping, I’ll hunt for you.”

And so, as planned, the next night John was passed out in the bedroom, and Pete, as best as he was able, was helping Couch to pry up the floorboards on the porch so that Couch could dig beneath them.  Finally, as it was getting on near three, Couch hit something hard in the dirt.

“Hey, Pete!” He yelled, without even thinking about it. “I got it.”

Well, that was enough to wake John. He jumped up out of bed, grabbed his gun, came rushing through the house, straight to the front door. He saw only that the porch was in ruins and someone he didn’t immediately recognize was standing in front of him.

He fired twice.

Couch fell where he stood, the shovel dropping and, in a small miracle, shattering the glass jar half unearthed at his feet.

At the same moment, Pete fell to the ground, dead again.

A cool blue ball of light rose up out of the broken jar and slowly drifted down towards the river. And then, they say, Couch’s mouth fell open and a green ball of light rose up out of him and bobbed along behind the blue light.

They say John Higgins never even made it to trial, that he hung from the big oak in front of the grocery store before the judge got out that way.

And for years, people reported seeing those lights, two bobbing orbs, rising up out of the ground where the Higgins place used to stand and dancing all the way down to the river and beyond, finally, out of sight.

Years later, Couchville was given up to make room for Percy Priest Lake. Everything–the old grocery store, the post office, the Couch family home, even the old burnt out ruins of the Higgins place–everything is under water now.

And yet, still those lights come up. You can see them coming up through the water, casting a soft glow on the skeletons of old buildings as they rise, and then they’ll bob up out of the water and dance across the surface of the lake, headed up towards the Cumberland and points further.

Adventures in Chattanooga

We drove to Chattanooga and it was lovely! We got mildly lost going to Channel 9 based on Google’s bad directions, but the Butcher refound us and there we were. It was cool, but disconcerting how calm the TV people are. Y’all know me. If there is fretting to be done, I am doing it. If we have three minutes before something happens, I am a mess those whole three minutes. But the TV people are all acting like they have all the time in the world, that they can move from one thing to another with ease.

It was very cool. I could never be that calm, but it was neat to see.

Thank you, Channel 9!

And then we went over to UT Chattanooga to tape a segment for WUTC. That was awesome. The person who interviewed me really liked the book so she had great questions and observations and, since it was public radio, I felt fine geeking way out on her.

And now I am exhausted and happy.

27. Dutchman’s Curve

There was a noise many folks mistook for the whistle at the prison and then an incredibly large explosion and then it was quiet. Just the sound of the wind rustling through the corn. You’d think that people would start screaming and crying out right away, but that’s not so. You need a moment to wait for your brain to accept that what has happened has actually happened.

Even then, it doesn’t seem quite real. And, if you aren’t in the middle of it, if you just hear about it, something so terrible, like two trains slamming into each other in the middle of a corn field, bodies and body parts tossed in with tattered luggage, it’s even harder to say, “Yes, this terrible thing happened here.”

The Monday after the flood, for instance, while people were still waiting to be rescued, while folks were just reentering homes to see how much they’d lost, while the police still blocked off roads, while the dead still remained uncounted, even while we were still shaken from the water that had just receded from our yard, we got in the car and went to look.

We smelled the putrid water. We walked to its edge and cried at the thought of the streets beneath it.

And we felt it, finally, in our bones, that this terrible thing had really happened and that we had seen it.

So, I understand why so many Nashvillians–as many as 50,000 in a city that, in 1918, had just over 100,000 residents–came out to see the aftermath of the great train wreck. How could you really know it unless you actually saw it? And how could you grieve it if you didn’t know it?

These are the ghosts that upset people, though. Many times I’ve heard from people who have been walking down the Richland Creek Greenway or standing there at the site of the wreck, reading the signs or gazing up at the track, trying to imagine what it must have been like, and they will catch out of the corner of their eye, a great crowd of specters approaching.

“How could they come to gawk?” I’m asked.

But when we go there, looking for ghosts, hoping to hear the century-old echoes of the dying, are we not also gawking?

Are we somehow less ghoulish?

The TNDP Does Campfield Wrong and Other Things

–I think Stacey Campfield is a vile fucker who never met a piece of legislation that stuck it to women (and babies he doesn’t like) that he couldn’t wait to skip down the hall and get Senator Bunch to co-sponsor with him. But suggesting that Campfield would put guns in the hands of convicted rapists or child sex predators is bullshit. Is there really no one at the TNDP to ask “How would we like it if the TNGOP pulled this crap with a Democrat? Oh, we would not like that. Therefore, we should not do it.” And great, now he rightfully gets to play the wronged victim of a smear campaign between now and the election. TNDP, do you want him to win?

Is that the plan?

Because that is a shitty, shitty plan.

I attempt to make a nuanced point. A commenter takes exception. One wonders about that commenter and whether “sit around being an asshole in the comments sections of blogs” is now a political job description, especially since he seems smarter than my normal trolls.

Ghosts of the Smithsonian (and just things that seemed like ghosts).

Sexy Halloween Costumes. The sexy naked lady one made me laugh. I honestly don’t know if that’s NSFW or not. None of them are actually particularly sexy.

 

Tomorrow

I went to Walgreens to buy make-up because the make-up I wear on the infrequent occasions I wear it is some eyeliner and some lipstick. And yet, when I go to be on TV in Chattanooga tomorrow (WTVC 12:30 their time), I need to wear something fitting for the TV lights.

So, I was standing in Walgreens and looking at everything and damned if I even knew what color I was. The woman at the counter had to help me pick shit out. But I think I’ve gotten that all resolved.  If I look weird, Chattanooga, just think of it as Halloween effects.

Still $40? Jesus Christ.

I’m glad I have a job that lets me skirt around most girly requirements, because I would not want to be shelling out money for make-up all the damn time.

Also tomorrow, my interview will be up on E. J. Stevens’ site, so be sure to pop over there. I will be!

And in something that has nothing to do with tomorrow, this site linked to “The Purple Impala” which tickled me a great deal.

26. The Last Unhaunted Spot

Most people don’t notice ghosts for the same reason you don’t notice your own breathing. Air slips in and out of our bodies without us having to think too much about it. Our souls slip in and out of our bodies without us having to think too much about it. All the noise and motions ghosts make, going about their business, once we’re grown, usually fades into the background, forgotten along with the rest of our imaginary friends.

We don’t notice not because there are no such thing as ghosts, but because, in a sense, there is nothing but ghosts.

Except, weirdly enough, for one spot in the grass in front of Grace Baptist Church, where Brick Church Pike crosses Old Hickory Boulevard. The geography seems normal enough, but something about that place left it empty from the dead.

This is where that strange little gal from Goodlettsville would come on the nights she couldn’t sleep for all the racket. She would drive down, park in the parking lot, and lie down in the empty spot in the grass. Usually, she would wake with the dawn, but the church secretary had also gotten used to shaking her awake and sending her on home.

After she died, the secretary would still see her lying there in the grass some mornings. Sometimes, the secretary would walk towards her, but that gal would always fade from view before the secretary could get close to her.

Lots of folks saw her there, before and after her death, which led to a story about how she had been in an accident at that intersection and thrown from her car, where she landed in that spot and died, and that’s why she haunts that place.

That’s not the truth of how she died, but it almost doesn’t matter.

Now there is no spot in Nashville that is not haunted.

Mother Jones Thinks It’s a Racket, Too

They’re talking about the Anti-Muslim Ponzi Scheme operating here in Tennessee. It strikes me that there’s something interesting about that quote at the end–about joking that Muslims are wife-beaters. If you work with any women’s organizations here in Tennessee, you know that it can be very hard to provide services to women because of the push-back you get from ministers if it seems like you are even remotely encouraging women to make decisions without the approval of their husbands or decisions that might cause women to leave their abusive spouses.

This is a very real and very damaging reality for many of the women in our state–that being Christian means tolerating abuse because the social sanctions against women who don’t is so severe.

So, this is an interesting intersection, right? Sally Snow is a bigotted asshole who hates Muslims. Her behavior directly harms Muslims. But by setting up Muslims as “wife-beaters,” she’s attempting to define wife beating as something “we” don’t do, “we” being good American Christians.

Don’t get me wrong, what she’s doing is fucked up and she should be embarrassed to be so unneighborly.

But I think it’s interesting to watch these conservative white Christian women trying to make more room for themselves and to make the room they have more pleasant. It’s pretty sad that here we are in 2010 and what Snow is advocating for is to be taken seriously as someone who knows what she’s talking about AND for Christian women to not be beat. But, hey, small steps. Yes, some of us are not inherently stupid and not fit to speak in public and some of us should not be beat.

Next we can work on “no woman is inherently stupid and not fit to speak in public and none of us should be beat.”

Nine

I had to start. It is just too much of October to me and though it’s fine and reasonable to do it whenever, I needed to start now, while it was still October. I don’t know how that’s going to work, how I’m going to work nine nights in a row, but once you’re in, you’re in, so I’ll just make it happen.

Talking about religious things is difficult and yet, if we don’t, how will the people who come after us know the landscape?

So, it’s like this, for me. I believe there is this world and the other world and that they sit, nestled in each other, and we will all pass over one day, but sometimes you can press against the curtain and make out the faint shapes of folks on the other side. Sometimes, you can feel them press back.

For me, it is a sensation of leaning forward, more than anything. I don’t know how else to explain it. There’s here and you lean forward a little and there’s there. Usually, I’m not leaning forward with my body, though there are times when I come back and my body is leaning forward.

I think of it like learning to be intoxicated without the intoxicants. It’s nothing to hallucinate after dropping acid. But to learn to hallucinate without it is the trick. If you think of it like a piano, you know, someone hits the key and the note is made. But, in this case, you are the piano and you are trying to pull down that key in order to strike that note. It’s tricky, but you know the key depresses. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to make it come down without a finger’s weight on it.

So, yeah, you totally could use drugs. I don’t because I have a job and I need the health insurance. But you could.

Otherwise, you just have to practice.

I worry this sounds crazy. And yet, when folks talk about the power of prayer or whatever, that’s okay. And really, it’s all equally crazy or not.

So, this is what I do. I mark off a space, usually with lit candles surrounding me. I set something to smoldering–usually herbs from my garden–so that it even smells different. Tonight it was sage, rosemary, and lavender. And then, I sit there quietly and wait for the shift. For my brain to let go enough that I can lean in. And sometimes, it’s like a fairy tale. And sometimes, it’s like a dream. And sometimes, you can’t quite connect.

And sometimes, it’s really wild and strange and wonderful.

This is the most important thing I do for myself all year, to reconnect and recommit to a world wild and ultimately fundamentally unknowable, to learn and practice the signs and skills folks before me have figured out.

I suppose it’s possible that it’s all in my head. But I have to say, even if it is, it’s a part of me I can’t otherwise get to, that lets me work through things I otherwise can’t figure out. And it for sure causes my brain to produce some chemical that makes me feel good, which seems to me to be a sign that my brain would like me to continue to do it.

In other words, I’m not sure a dismissive, logical explanation would really change its importance for me.

25. Lock One Park

Here, behind a low stone wall, down a little traveled road, in back of a church on Trinity Lane is Lock One Park. It goes without saying that there used to be a lock here on the Cumberland River. And before that, Eaton’s Station, within sight of Fort Nashboro, which most folks, back in the day, called French Lick Station.

If you can get over the stone wall, the park slowly descends down to the river and throughout are foundations of old buildings, old tracks, old paths, old walls.

If you feel inclined, you should go down about half way to the river, just past where the path curves and the ruins switch from stone to brick. Sit there for a while. I can’t tell you how long. Sometimes shutting your eyes helps.

You’ll hear the noise from the nearby interstate and kids playing up at street level and birds, the constant chatter of birds. You might hear a mother, calling for her child. Nothing strange about that, except the accent sounds so old-fashioned. And your wait is soon satisfied by the sound of children running past, delighted with a frog or a crawfish they found.

You might also hear the zip of the back and forth of saws on trees and men working to clear the timber from the hills. And there is the noise of the barge as it signals its approach to the lock. And there are the thwacks of arrows hitting wood. And there is the sound of the thunder of thousands of bison moving past you to wade through the shallows.

Still, wait for it. Do not yet open your eyes.

Give it long enough and you might hear a thud like a log falling to the ground, followed by another, and another, until you realize those are footsteps. The smell, also, will be a give away. Maybe, if you are lucky, there will be a whole herd.

Stay still. But open your eyes and see the mastodons, come down to the river to drink, their ghosts still roaming the state, in large herds, though this is the only surefire place to see them.

Some People Don’t Get to Vote for Gary Moore and I am Sad for Them

Is Gary Moore a genius or does he just have someone on his campaign staff who is and, if it is the latter, can we put that person to work for the TNDP?

Check out Moore’s latest mailer. It’s basically “Do you want someone who sits around in his parents’ house eating Red Hots by the jar and typing away on his computer as your State Rep?” It’s basically “Let’s channel all people’s unease about kids today and bloggers and people who look vaguely like Jack Osborne into a mailer!”

It’s brilliant. Even the way the photo is leveled by the jar of Red Hots, thus leaving everything else slightly askew has a nice unsettling effect.

If Moore wins reelection (good lord willing), he needs to give some seminars to his fellow Dems on how to do hardball right.

Ponzi Scheme of Evil

I don’t know if y’all saw this over at Pith, but I was discussing how it turns out that the lead lawyer for the assholes trying to stop the Murfreesboro mosque is also the president of the assholes trying to stop the Murfreesboro mosque.

It seems legal but hinky. I mean, lawyers have to eat, just like everyone else, so I get why they would take on unsavory clients. But being your own unsavory client? And then taking the money assholes give you and spreading it around to your friends so that they can do such important things as read websites into the court record?

It just seems like a scam.

But what has really stuck with me since writing this is wondering about the dynamics of the people who give money towards this nonsense. How do you know when you’re a misunderstood Superman and when you’re just a fool standing outside in his long-johns? Is it harder to admit you’re just a fool in his underwear once you’ve given money?

And there’s a weird ego thing going on with the idea that you, small group of Tennesseans, would somehow have secret knowledge that everyone else for the past 1500 years has been too stupid to realize.

But my favorite thing is that basically their whole case, so far, seems to boil down to “There are groups, such as ours, who really hate Muslims and don’t want them to be able to do anything, therefore Muslims shouldn’t be able to do anything.”

They really think that for some reason they can’t quite articulate, probably even to themselves, they should get the deciding vote in how their communities develop.

It’s stunning to watch them willingly hand their money to charlatans who promise to help them defend that right.

24. The Goodlettsville Gal

They say there’s a gal in Goodlettsville who can speak to the dead as easily as I might pick up the phone and speak to you. She is young, maybe 19 or 20, and lives out in a hollow along Brick Church Pike. They say everything in her house must be brand new, because anything even remotely associated with a dead person will bring her into communication with the dearly departed, like a radio you can’t turn off.

They say she helps police from around the country solve crimes.

Almost none of this is true. I, by now, talked to enough police officers that I felt like I could press them about whether Metro had ever worked with the Goodlettsville Gal.

Finally, one of them shook his head and asked me, “You know what it means when a police department admits to working with a psychic?'”

“Instant loss of credibility?” I guessed.

She laughed and explained, “No, it means we either have a good idea but can’t prove it, so we’re tossing the ‘psychic’ information out there as a way of shaking the bushes or it means we’ve got something through less than legal means and we need a way to ‘discover’ it again in a way that will stand up in court.” She paused and her face turned more serious. “Think of some of the high profile cases that we have not solved. You think if we had a workable psychic, those families wouldn’t have some answers?”

“So, you think the Goodlettsville Gal is just a myth?”

“Oh, no. I did not say that,” she said, stretching out every word just a little more than usual.

The officer wrote down an address on a napkin, slid it across the table to me, and looked at me as if I had no idea what I was asking.

“Why don’t you go see? I heard she’s up to something this afternoon, in fact.”

So, off I went, with nothing more than that address. No name, no phone number, just a sense that there was something strange worth seeing and, if I hurried, I could catch it.

She was waiting at the end of the driveway when I got there. She was small and had hair in that no-color state between the toe-head of childhood and the dark brown of adult, which she wore pulled back in a pony tail.

“If you want to hang out a little bit,” she said, pointing me to where I could park in the front yard, “some Skagges are on their way and I’m going to do my thing for them. You’re welcome to watch.”

The Skaggs family claims to have been here since their ancestor, Henry Skaggs, came into the area with Kasper Mansker in 1771. Interestingly enough, some Skaggses believe they are cursed, following from an incident in which they believe Henry witnessed Mansker killing an Indian, the first such incident in Middle Tennessee, though, certainly not the last.

There’s much contention about both of these facts. Skaggs, many say, was back in Virginia when the incident occurred, thus meaning Skaggses have not been here continuously since then (though folks will concede Skaggses certainly returned at some point shortly after) and that Henry Skaggs could not have been cursed for his witnessing a murder he did not prevent since he wasn’t there to witness it.

And don’t even get the Skaggses started on whether there is a curse. The fact is that some believe it and some don’t and they all have made themselves somewhat amateur historians and geneologists in an effort to bolster their particular claims.

It was this tendency for historical sleuthing that has brought this branch of the Skaggs family to the Goodlettsville gal this particular afternoon. Their grandfather, a man in his late 80s, was preparing to die. Not right away, but just wanting to settle things on earth before stepping off into whatever comes next.

Not normally an affectionate man, he had taken to making a point of telling his son that he loved him and making sure that his daughters knew how proud he was of them. And he wanted to know what had happened to his sister, Maggie, who had taken off for school one day when she was 16 and never come home.

Some family members thought she’d probably just run off, but Big Daddy Skaggs refused to believe she would have left without telling him. He believed she was dead, that she had been all this time.  But he just wanted to know for sure and to have the family record set straight before he died. The family conceded it was probably far too late to have the police look into it. After seventy years, what could there be to find?

But they thought the Goodlettsville gal could help.

And so, here they were, Big Daddy, his son, called, of course, Little Daddy, and Bill and Sharon, who, though also parents, were just called ‘Bill and Sharon.’ If Big Daddy or Little Daddy were called anything else, I didn’t hear it. They sat around the Goodlettsville Gal’s parents’ dining room table. The Goodlettsville gal sat at the head. I stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room.

Though it was sunny out, when I turned out the lights, the room felt like late evening.

The gal asked Big Daddy as she lit the candle in the center of the table, “Is there a song she liked? Or a song that you liked from back then? Something you could sing for me?”

Little Daddy said, “He’s not much of a singer.”

“That’s all right,” the gal said, reaching out and patting Big Daddy on the arm. “That’s just fine.”

Big Daddy gave an embarrassed smile, but he began to sing “Sweet Leilani.” Either nobody else knew it or they were reluctant to sing along, but Big Daddy had a fine voice, soft and low, cracking a little, but he took the song slow and sweet.

As he sang, the gal shut her eyes and began to rock with the rhythm of Big Daddy’s voice. And, then, as she got a sense of the words, she, too, began to sing, “you are my dream come true.” Something in the room shifted, as if we were all suddenly drunk or dizzy. Everyone reached to steady themselves. The door behind me slowly swung shut. Then the door from the dining room to the front room. The chandelier over the table, started to swing back and forth.

The gal stood up and climbed onto the table. She grabbed hold of the swinging light fixture and reached for Bid Daddy’s hand. “Keep singing,” she directed.

He did.

And she slowly turned towards the window, so that her back was to us. And she said, in a loud voice, “Here we are! Open that gate. Come on out and tell me what I want to know.” A cloud crossed the sun and the whole room seemed to shrink. Suddenly, she twirled on her knees, almost knocking the candles over and she looked right at Bill.

“You could die, you know. If you don’t get a handle on your drinking, your grandfather will outlive you.”

She then turned to Little Daddy, which meant that I could more clearly see her face. Somehow it looked as if someone older was behind her face. I don’t know how to explain it better than that. It was as if an old woman was wearing a young girl as a mask. She studied him intently and finally said, “Yes, yes, you did.”

He bolted up from the table and paced in front of me, running his hands through his hair.

“Okay, okay,” he whispered to himself. “I thought so.”

Finally, she turned to Big Daddy. She looked him up and down and then she looked out into the sunny yard.

She said, “Your sister is at home. She says to tell you that you did kill her killer.”

And then it was almost as if someone let the air out of the room. The gal from Goodlettsville sank to the table, her face resembling herself once again. The doors popped back open, as if a breeze had come rushing out of the room. And the room flooded with light as the sun came out from behind the cloud.

Most of the Skaggses were visibly shaken. Big Daddy, though, slumped like he’d just set down a heavy load. He opened up his wallet and counted out twenty-five twenty dollar bills.

“All right then,” he said. “All right.”