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.
“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.”
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!”
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.