I Will Sleep on the Couch with the Cat But I Won’t Like It

It Was the Best of Readings; It Was the Worst of Readings

Whew, this weekend has been stuffed and yet, somehow, it’s only 1:30 on Sunday. I don’t know if this means I should spend the rest of the day relaxing on the couch or if I should go find something to fill my time.

Friday was the reading at the Goddess and the Moon. It was what I might term a wonderful disappointment. Only four people showed up. And they were all four people that I know and like a great deal. So, yeah, if I were going to read stories to four people I know and like, normally, I would have just had them out to the house. But it was nice and we had a lovely discussion about the Bell Witch which can be summed up as “There probably wasn’t a witch or a haunting but something very strange happened in the Bell household.”

But it was disappointing, too, because I don’t want to just read to people I know.

So, on Saturday, my brother came up from Georgia and we patched the hole in the driveway. We ran blacktop patch around the one side with the biggest cliff to try to cushion the cliff some. Then we filled the hole with pea gravel. Then we looked at each other and said “Blacktop isn’t going to hold that pea gravel in place. We’ll just be dealing with this same mess next year, when the gravel washes away.” And so we went and got almost 500 lbs of dry concrete, mixed it up one bag at a time, and dumped it on top of the gravel.

And now, it obviously looks like a cock and balls. I’ll have to post a picture of it so that you can see.

Then I went to another tiny reading, but this time it was to three people I didn’t know, and we also talked a lot about publishing, and they said they got chills and so it was awesome! It’s not that I don’t love to read to people I know. Of course I do. But my problem has always been how to reach people I don’t know.

Honestly, I kind of feel like that might be a problem larger than I can solve. It may need a champion who is not me to say “Hey, everyone, here is this awesome book.” And I don’t know who that would be that would strike the larger public’s imagination, but I think that’s what it needs.

This morning, we went over to the Farmhouse at Fontanel for breakfast and I thought it was fabulous. I had French toast with bacon, which was perfectly cooked. Our other brother had pancakes, which were fabulous, and the Butcher had biscuits and gravy with home fries. He thought the home fries were not hot enough, but otherwise, liked it. I think. He’s been a little squirrelly this weekend.

So, I definitely recommend it for breakfast.

Then the dog and I went to West Park and it was lovely, though very dusty as the baseball diamonds were trying to make a break for it, catching the wind and heading on up into our nostrils. West Park has a mysterious lump, smaller than I have seen at other parks, but decorated! I am excited to write about it for Pith to see if anyone knows what the lump is or why people have decorated it.

So, yeah, the book. I don’t know. Something needs to happen, but I’m not sure what.

And someone needs to weed my herb garden, but I don’t see anyone out there doing it.

23. The Sunday School Publishing Board of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Incorporated

Cities scar and bruise like people do. A wound opens and tissue builds around it when an interstate slices through a neighborhood. Folks will worry the loss of a beloved church like they worry the tender spot where a tooth has gone missing.

And then, in some cities, there are spots where the routine evil done there can make a place feel gangrenous. You turn your head from it. You catch your breath in your throat. You deliberately stop knowing what went on there. It was something that happened a long time ago. Something that doesn’t matter any more.

And you make your way past it like that city block is the shadow at the far end of a dark hallway. You will yourself to not look. You will yourself to not see. You close your eyes and dash past, and feel like you have just avoided having to know something about how the world works that you can’t explain.

Such was the case for the old hotel at the corner of Cedar and North Cherry. Patrons would complain about the loud cries and moans and wails. Other patrons would complain about the spectral men who stood outside their doors, engaged in casual discussion about selling people using words polite people now kept quiet.

In the 1920s, $300,000 was both a lot to pay for that building and not nearly enough. But part of the reason the building was even within reach of the Sunday School Publishing Board was that the hotel could never figure out a way to overcome the the unique challenges of that spot.

The Sunday School Publishing Board, however, does have a way.

There are always two employees–one man and one woman–who have been specially trained and whose job it is to deal with the past still bleeding into the present.

Everyone else is reminded regularly to lift the two employees up in their prayers.

The job is difficult, because all who come are helped.

When it is as simple as squatting down low in the dark basement and holding out your hand to a scared child who wants nothing more than to be reunited with his mama, the job is merely heartbreaking. When the spirit is an angry and trapped and disgusted that the only help for him comes from the likes of you, it takes a very particular kind of person to stand there and wait for the abuse to stop and to come back again and again until the man will accept your help.

And the ghosts who end up in the Sunday School Publishing Board building, are often still very traumatized. Some women cannot be approached by the male employee. Any help they get must come from the soft voice of another women. Some men cannot come forward for a woman, cannot talk to a woman they don’t know, even after all this time. Some want to stay and get even. Some cannot leaven until they’ve relayed a message to a loved on.

“Those break my heart,” my informant told me. “Who knows how long it’s been since they’ve seen that other person? One hundred and sixty years? One hundred and seventy? And they don’t even know that, if they’d just be on their way, they’d be reunited with that person. I am always so sorry they’ve wasted so much time, but praise Jesus that their suffering is about to be over.”

“Do you really think that?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “Certainly not in every case. But I will say this, when that was my job, one thing I learned is that I can’t know what God’s judgment will be. I have my opinions, of course. But I know God is merciful beyond understanding, so it’s not my job to do anything more or less than fill my heart with compassion and then use that to help these folks get on to the next thing. I have faith I will see most of them again, and they won’t be suffering, and they won’t be scared, and they will be whole through Jesus. I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t know that’s the truth.”

“Do you think there will come a time when no one needs to do your job?” I asked.

“Yes, yes I do,” she said. “We’re needed less now than we were when I was working and I was needed far less than my predecessor. But we’re just one place in one city. I often wonder if anyone is doing this same work in other places. I hope so. I cannot bear to think otherwise.”

22. The Strange Case of George Harding

George Harding was a young man who fell into the Harpeth when it was swollen one spring and, though he was as strong swimmer, he went under and never came up. Though there is a marker for him in the graveyard by the Ensworth School, his body was not recovered until recently. He was found by Jim Sharp while he and his son were walking along the Harpeth in the small park under the Route 100 bridge. The flood had, apparently, uncovered the bones which had been buried in the bank.

Sharp, upon discovering the bones, immediately called the police who came out and marked off the area as a crime scene. They took a statement from Sharp and he and his son headed for his nearby home.

Everything was fine until he got out of the car. Even before he could get around to his son’s side of the car, he felt what he later described as a hard wind.

“I felt,” he told me, “Like I had been punched in the face, from the inside. Especially, right along my nose and under my eyes. I felt this enormous pressure.

“And then, I was seeing double. I mean, it was like seeing double or wearing bifocals or something. Except, if I looked one way, I could see my house and car and everything, like I had always known it, and, if I looked another way, I saw farmland.

“Hell, I’ll be honest. I thought maybe I was having some kind of flashback. Like I’d be the guy who dropped acid once and had flashbacks about rural America.”

The double-vision came and went, throughout the rest of the day. That night, he dreamed he was at the Belle Meade Mansion and there was a huge party. He was dancing with three or four different young women who were all vying for his attention, and who were decked out in enormous ballgowns supported by layers of petticoats.

“It wasn’t a dream,” he said. “I woke up and I just knew it wasn’t just a dream. It was so vivid, like when you dream about your kid being born or the moment your wife tells you she wants a divorce. You dream about it like it happened. Only, obviously, it hadn’t happened to me.

“In the morning, I called the police to find out what was going on and they told me that they’d turned the bones over to the state after determining that they were over 150 years old.

“‘Probably that Harding kid,’ the officer on the phone said and when he said the name, it was like, I don’t know, it was like my whole body just ached, like some part of me recognized that name.

“I called my ex-wife. I didn’t know what else to do. I told her I thought I was possessed. She took it better than I thought she might. She did a bunch of research on drowned Harding kids.

“‘George,’ she said, ‘His name was George,’ and I just busted out crying. Only, it wasn’t me. God, this is weird. But you see what I’m saying. I couldn’t have cared less. But the kid in me did.

“And then, then I said, ‘Ma’am, I would like to see my sister, if you can find her.’ Only, obviously, I know where my sister is. But my ex, she was always much better about this weird stuff life throws you than I am. She says, ‘Okay.’

“So, she starts doing research, trying to track down this kid’s sister. Meanwhile, now he’s in my head. And he’s freaked out. I mean, if I could keep the new stuff to a size he could manage, he was fascinated. He loved indoor lighting and television kind of blew his mind.

“But, when I went to the grocery store, I got stuck in the meat department, because he got all freaked out and afraid. I had to call my ex to come get me.

“I told her that, if this kept up, I was going to have to move back in with her, just so she could mother this kid, too. She even found that funny, which was nice.

“I know you didn’t come to hear about my problems with my ex, but that was the moment when we became friends again. Hundred percent improved things for my kid. Weird as it was, I’m grateful to George for that.

“Anyway, so she found his sister. I mean, yeah, she found her buried over in Mt. Olivet. But more than that, his sister, Elizabeth Harding, was sent to stay with the other side of the family, out in Donelson, after George died.

“And now, she haunts Two Rivers.”

“Really?” I said. “Two ghosts in the same family?”

“You know that’s how those two families are, right?”

“What two families?”

“The Hardings and the Donelsons. Being a ghost runs in both families. You see a ghost in Nashville you don’t know, you just holler ‘Harding’ or ‘Donelson’ and chances are pretty good they’ll turn around.

“So, really, if it were any other family, yeah, I guess it’d be strange, but they’re Hardings, so of course they’re ghosts.”

Now, I have to tell you, when I say this kind of stuff to other people, I don’t think it sounds strange. I figure that, if we’re talking about ghosts, you’re kind of prepared for any weirdness that might come up. But sitting there listening to Sharp talk about ghostliness running in old Nashville families? I admit, I had half a mind that he was crazy.

He continued, “So we arranged for a tour of Two Rivers mansion, claimed we were considering getting married there and my ex took the lady who was showing us around off into a back room under some pretense and George and I stood at the bottom of the stairs.

“‘Is this where Liza lives?’ he asked and I said, ‘Well, kind of. She’s dead.’ and he just started crying so hard I had snot all running down my face. ‘What kind of terrible place is this?’ he wailed. ‘Everything looks different. Everyone I love is dead.’ and I said, ‘You know you’re dead, too, right?’ and I don’t know if he just hadn’t quite thought about it or what, but that though seemed to calm him down. ‘Why don’t you go see if you can’t find Liza?’ I said and he nodded and sniffled a little bit and then, there was this incredible pressure on my face and I thought I might throw up. I opened my mouth and I pushed out my tongue and it was like he just poured out of me.

“And then, he was gone.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that. But, hey, his body’s in his grave now and now I hear stories about a young man who haunts Two Rivers. So, maybe he’s okay?

“I hope he’s okay, anyway. I never heard from him again.”

Hanging Here Nor There

I think of myself as an inbetweeny person. I look back at a lot of my writing and I am constantly making two points and wanting to hang out in the tension between them. I love walking my dog just as the night sky gives way to morning. My favorite Old Man hangs between a tree and the ground for fun and profit.

But, man, I have to tell you, hanging out here in the inbetween of my book? I am totally sucking at it. I need to learn to do it, just live with the inbetween of it, because switching from being so proud and feeling like everything is going awesome and feeling like an utter failure is exhausting.

But once we hit the 31st, I have to develop a new game plan.

Another Day, Another Reading!

Tonight. Six o’clock. Goddess and the Moon. I’ll be reading three of my witchier stories. Damn you spellcheck! You really don’t think ‘witchier’ is a word? Someone’s acting witchy… Oh, I see. It doesn’t think witchy is a word, either.

Well, then, spellcheck. We will have to agree to disagree about that.

Anyway, come on out, if you like. You can come hear me and then go see the around the corner.

21. The Purple Impala

Denny Wilcox was a police officer. He served with Metro for almost fifteen years. The end of his career started with a simple enough traffic stop–four Mexican kids in a twenty-year old Impala painted bright purple rolling on rims that were weighted to stay still when the car moved, giving the illusion that the car was floating.

“They were obviously gang-bangers,” Wilcox told me. “Covered in tattoos. I was giving them shit, all ‘Hey, ese’ just to see if it would get a rise out of them. The little one in the back seat said, ‘You know, we speak English,’ but the driver said, ‘Let it go.’ I didn’t have a good reason, other than that they looked like trouble to have pulled them over. And they didn’t give me a good reason to keep them stopped. I wish to God either thing would have happened. Either make it so I never pulled them over or give me a reason to keep them a little longer. But I let them go. They said, ‘Thank you, officer,” and then, as I was watching them drive off, right when they crossed Thompson Lane… and they had the green… a car comes out of nowhere and just plows into them.

“You’ve got to know those Impalas are like tanks. Still, it was nothing but a pile of twisted metal and broken glass. I have seen my share of dead bodies. But I had never seen someone die right in front of me. And they all died–those four guys and the driver of the other car. We never did figure out why she didn’t stop. Tox came back clean.

“I don’t know.

“I went to tell their families. Guillermo Cortez? His mom fell to the ground when I told her. She didn’t even make a noise. She just laid there like she was waiting for the earth to swallow her. His cousin Jose was the scrawny one in the back. His girlfriend had just had a baby. When I showed up, she said, ‘So, he’s dead,’ like she was just expecting it. ‘Who did it?’ and I told her it was just an accident. She looked at me like she couldn’t make sense of what I was saying. ‘How can that be?’ Frankie Hernandez’s family wouldn’t even open the door for me. I knew they were home, but they wouldn’t answer. I found someone three doors down who went and talked to them. They never did claim his body.”

“Weird,” I said.

“No, I get it,” he said, “They were afraid to even be on our radar, afraid they’d be deported. And the fourth one was just called ‘Sarge.’ If he had a name, we never learned it. If there was someone to tell he was gone, I never found them. Of all of them, that was the worst. Someone out there must have given a shit about that kid, you know? And, as far as I know, they never knew what happened to him.”

Wilcox was silent a long time. I’d come to expect that from folks. Men, especially, seemed to need long silences in order to get their stories out.

“Here’s the thing,” His voice startled both of us. “Four months later, I’m driving down Nolensville Road and I see a purple Impala, just like theirs. And it’s raining, not hard, but still and they don’t have their headlights on. So, I flash the car over and before I even get out of my car, I run the plates and they come back to Guillermo Cortez. I’m still thinking this has got to be the biggest motherfuck of a coincidence. But, hey, maybe there’s a cousin and he’s got himself a purple Impala in honor of his dead relative. So, I get out of the car and I walk up to the window.

“And there is Guillermo Cortez. As real as you are. And he looks at me and he gives me a sly grin and he says, ‘Officer Wlcox, you need a ride?’ and Jose says, ‘It’s okay. We speak English.’ and I can’t even scream. I’m just standing there, my hands shaking and my mouth open and as I’m watching them, not an arm’s reach away from me, the car just fades from view. Like a fog lifting.”

“Holy shit,” I say.

“Well, you can bet that, once my captain hears that I ran the plate of a dead kid, thinking I was pulling him over, I got a free trip to the shrink.”

He paused again, to take a long drink of beer. “It happened again. Not just once. I saw that damn car all the time. I just never told anyone I was still seeing it. But one night, I said yes.”

“Wait, what?”

“I pulled them over. Cortez asked me if I wanted a ride and I said yes. I got in the car with them.”

“You got in the ghost car?!”

Wilcox took another long swig off of his beer.

“I can’t really explain it. You know how it is, sometimes, late at night, when the traffic lights are all blinking yellow? How it feels like everyone in Nashville has vanished and it’s just you and the useless traffic lights telling you to be careful, though there’s nothing left to be careful about? How it feels like the whole empty city is yours?

“That’s what it was like. They had cold beers. We all drank them. One of them had a bottle of tequila. We passed it around. After a while I could smell the odor of marijuana mixing in with the cigarette smoke, but I didn’t care. They told stories about some guy they’d beat up or about some girl they saw who was so beautiful they couldn’t stand it. And that big old purple Impala just floated over the city, slid in between cars, took turns down roads that haven’t existed in years. And there were all these people, some living, most dead, just walking down the street, or driving in their cars, a city of ghosts, a whole city of ghosts, everywhere you looked, ghosts right next to us, passing through us. Some trying to get our attention. Some trying to ignore us.

“And we just drove by them, our windows down, our music blaring. And those that turned to see us, they saw how beautiful we were and we could see how beautiful they were.

“These guys, they saw everything. One or the other of them would notice just the most random shit. ‘Oh, hey, watch the bounce in that guy’s step.’ ‘Shit, have you ever seen a little kid that pissed?’ or whatever. it was just you couldn’t see enough.

“I said to them, ‘I am so sorry,’ and they just laughed. ‘It’s all good,’ Sarge said. I know that sounds stupid, but it blew my mind then. It was like words were more, bigger, fuller. I don’t know. Everything was just more beautiful. Seeing it from that car let you see that.

“Eventually, they dropped me off. Again, I said, ‘I’m so sorry,’ and Guillermo grabbed my arm and said, ‘It’s not important. Being sorry isn’t important.’ I patted the roof of their car and they drove off. I thought I had been gone for hours, but, when I got back in my car, only like ten minutes had passed.

“I quit right after that.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I just couldn’t stand what a god damn waste people make of it all, you know?”

Oh, I Forgot to Tell You About My Walk this Morning!

So, I hook the dog to her leash, we all head outside, and immediately, I can see that she’s got the scent of something. And she’s curious but cautious. She’s sniffing and looking and her ears are at full alert. I sense NOTHING but I take from Mrs. W.’s behavior that we have just missed someone. So, she’s following its scent in our back yard, through the neighbors’ and into the AT&T yard. She even stops and points, like a pointer, one paw up, tail straight, at one point. And then I can see she’s completely focused on the culvert that goes under the road.

She doesn’t want to go near it but she does not want to let it out of her sight.

And then she did something I have never seen her do before: she made huge slow running loops around me.

But wait, you say, doesn’t the dog make big loops around you all the time?

Yes, but always playful loops, where she’s focused on me.

This was, on the surface, the same thing, but in person, very different. She was making slow, running loops around me and keeping her eye on that culvert the whole time.

I think she was saying “This is mine, don’t fuck with it.”

She didn’t seem freaked or anything. She seemed like she knew exactly what she was doing and was not nervous.

But man, it ran a chill up my spine.

Never did see what it was she was smelling, though.

It must have decided to keep its distance.

Still, man, dogs are amazing. I don’t hunt, obviously, so I rarely have an opportunity to work with my dog as a team on a task more complex than taking a walk. But this morning… I don’t know. I just trusted that there was something we needed to be mindful of, both of us, and that we both understood that Mrs. W. had a bead on it that I didn’t and hence, that she had a job to do that I wouldn’t be able to guide her at.

I don’t know how we both knew, but we did.

And, man, the people who first domesticated dogs must have had an enormous advantage over their enemies. Today, I really understood how that revolutionized the lives of humans–giving you a whole other set of senses we otherwise don’t have, not like that, anyway.

Two Photos from Last Night


People, it was awesome. I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome it was. It was packed with people, most of whom I knew, some of whom I only knew from blogging, and a few I didn’t know at all. We had to bring out chairs from the bank and still some people ended up having to sit on hay bales.

And there was a smoke machine! A smoke machine which spewed smoke. I half expected a tiny Stonehenge to descend from someplace.

The patio was perfect and the Butcher shouted “Encore” at the end and I had such a good time.

That is all. I just feel really happy and proud and thankful.

Thanks to everyone who came out. I really, really appreciate it.

20. Sulphur Creek Road

Sulphur Creek Road doesn’t appear on old maps, though there’s a church along it that has had a congregation for a hundred and fifty years. It stretches between Old Hickory Boulevard and Eatons Creek Road, winding through that infamous northwest Davidson County terrain. Sharp hills, a tight hollow, turns that run you straight into trouble before you see it coming. A hundred years ago, it ran between land the Simpkinses owned and land the Hazlewoods owned.

They never used it.

A hundred and fifty years ago, it was common to smell the sour bite of mash in the still out there, which meant armed men with something to hide.

Two hundred years ago, it was difficult for white men to travel into this area, one of the last places the previous inhabitants were routed out of, those who did not disappear.

A long time ago, rumor started to spread that a person didn’t have to go very far north to find freedom, that there was, for those brave enough to make a break for it, a place just outside of town, not quite to Ashland City, where, if you could get there, they couldn’t get you back.

It only took two guns, they said, to defend it, the strategic advantage was so great. One at the north end of the hollow, up in the hill, and the other at the south end. Like early snipers, they could pick a group of men on horseback off before the riders even knew what direction the gunfire came from.

They say, even now, if you drive Sulphur Creek Road after dark, with you windows down and your radio off, you’ll often catch a muzzle flash and hear the shot fired right at you, even if the folks who guard this place can no longer hurt you.

Even now, especially after dark, this is not a place strangers are welcome.

Blanket Flowers and Other Random Things

–People, it is October. Deep into October. Most of the flowers in my garden that bloomed in the spring are either dried coneheads or have gone dormant. Not these few blanketflowers. They are still blooming. And they look fantastic. They looked fantastic back in May. Half a year later? Still fantastic. How is this possible? I didn’t deadhead them or really water them or protect them from being run over by my crazed father or anything.

And yet, they’re like “Sure, we’ll pick up the yellow in these fallen leaves.”

Kathy is kindly spreading the word about my October 31st reading.

Sean Braisted has a point. Christians who complain along certain lines about Muslims make themselves look so wickedly ignorant of their own history it’s almost embarrassing to witness.

–I feel like this–“I suspect that a large part of the problem, when we talk about culture, is an inability to code-switch, to understand that the language of Rohan is not the language of Mordor. I don’t say this to minimize culture, to the contrary, I say it to point how difficult it is to get people to discard practices which were essential to them in one world, but hinder their advancement into another. And then there’s the fear of that other world, that sense that if you discard those practices, you have discarded some of yourself, and done it in pursuit of a world, that you may not master.”–is applicable to our earlier discussion. Man, I love Coates.

I Wait, I Wait, I Wait, I Wait

It’s hard to remember now, with the ubiquity of the internet, but it used to be hard to find out about things. Music, for instance. My dad had an extensive music collection, but it wasn’t current. So, I had, growing up, a lot of folk music, some rock with folk roots, jazz (which I didn’t care for), and whatever was on the radio.

If ever I learned about any cool bands, it was because of the good influence of my friend who was here to visit last week, because she had older sisters in Minneapolis and Chicago, where you could go see music the likes of which you would never hear on the radio.

Only once she shared with me “Waiting Room” by Fugazi and I listened to that “I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait” over and over again in my head like it was going to be the antidote to something I couldn’t even name.

I love this video, too, because it still hits me as being something I can’t be a part of but can take great delight in standing outside, watching.

Honestly, to kind of go off on a tangent, I wonder if I am not the anti-Gretchen Wilson. She says

I don’t think anything about country people is ignorant. If your goal is to grow up and stay in the same small town you’ve always been in, work at the corner market and own a double wide trailer on a half acre lot, that’s fine. If that’s your dream that should be good enough for everyone else, too. If you see your life as small, home, community, family, that’s great. I think we’ve lost a lot of that in this country and there’s nothing ignorant about holding onto your values.

And believe me, I hear her. And I get that I probably went to school with a lot of people who felt and feel the same way. But damn, this was the shape of the trap of my life–that life is small and just home and community and family. And I hate it that she’s pushing that as enough for folks. There’s some little girl out there who is a huge Gretchen Wilson fan who needs to hear that the world is bigger than her small town, that it is as big as the one Wilson now lives in.

But, as much as Wilson annoys me with this, I just can’t be mad at her. This is her fairytale–that you can live a good enough life very small. And to be as successful and talented as she is and still telling yourself that story?

It kind of breaks my heart.

You Know What’s Sad?

All over America, there are people who do not have something this cute sleeping on their couch.

And yes, that is an oven mitt behind her. No, no, I don’t know why there’s an oven mitt in the living room. I think we have to assume they migrate for the winter and I’ve just caught it on its way to the fireplace.

What is the Next Step?

I had lunch with nm, which I highly recommend to anyone who needs to talk through stuff and I was trying to draw some connection between this post and this post and how I feel like we as online feminists kind of get that there’s this patriarchal system and that it is damaging, but that we also kind of don’t get that it is damaging, that it’s going to make folks who are hurt by it turn around and hurt others. Sady says, “And we talk a lot about how oppression can warp your understanding of self, about how some people raised in an oppressive system will internalize that system. We talk about how people who are victims of abuse often perpetrate it. I just don’t think we were prepared to see that play itself out on Mad Men,” but you could stop that last sentence right before “on” and you’d get to where we are as an online feminist community right now.

Things playing out that we were not prepared for.

And bout after bout of “Purge the Heresy” in response.

But nm is roughly Sally Draper’s age and she remembers how mind-blowing it was to sit around and talk to other women and to learn that this weirdness she felt at how the world was arranged wasn’t unique to her and that it was systemic and pervasive.

And then she said something that blew my mind, which I am going to paraphrase, because, obviously, I did not write it down like I should have, which is that once you see it, once you get it and you get how it works, maybe there’s not much more to say about it.

And, yeah, I kind of wonder if that’s not part of it. Once the paradigm shift has happened, you don’t sit around pondering the shift–you just get on with understanding things.

So, yeah, I don’t know.

Something is niggling at me about all this. It fits together somehow, I just don’t quite know how.

19. The Haunting of Eastland and Porter

There were two young men who went to the same church over on the east side of the river. As children, they were inseparable. Tom got married to his high school sweetheart and Danny, though not married when he died, was a well-known flirt, who spent most of his time in the church choir making time with the women who surrounded him.

There had been rumors of trouble in Tom’s life, and it was widely known in the church that he and his family had weekly meetings with the pastor and it was widely accepted that he had been encouraged to marry so young as a way of setting aside his wild youth and aligning himself with God’s will.

The young men were killed in a traffic accident at the corner of Eastland and Porter. Tom still had his motorcycle and Danny needed a ride someplace after church.  Now there is a three-way stop at that corner, but it used to be that only the person coming west on Eastland had to stop and that person was at a distinct disadvantage when trying to see if anyone was coming towards him around the curve. You just had to go and hope no one was coming too quickly.

Tom was the oncoming traffic that day. He skidded up Porter, his motorcycle still between his legs. He died instantly. Danny was thrown clear and he died a few days later.

Since then, the spot has become a magnet for paranormal groups looking to investigate active hauntings. When Davidson County Paranormal League had their Halloween special on WKRN, this corner was one of their features and flame wars erupted on local websites about whether the footage was faked.

The footage that had the whole city talking was of two distinctly male voices. One calls out “Tom? Hey, Tom!” and, after a few minutes, the other calls out, “Danny? Are you really here?” And then there’s a whoop and a scream and sobs.

The Davidson County Paranormal League explained that they considered this a residual haunting, that there weren’t actually spirits still here, that this was a moment in these men’s lives so profound that the right conditions could cause it to replay, over and over.

In a psychology class, up at Austin Peay, this clip was the centerpiece of a discussion of the group dynamics involved with believing in what the professor termed, “this paranormal nonsense.”

And so he played the clip for the class. And a woman in middle of the second row started to sob.

“Oh, my gosh,” she said, wiping her eyes, “I’m so sorry. That just hit me right in the heart. I know that noise.”

“Are you saying that you have witnessed a ghost?” the professor was suddenly worried the lecture was about to go way off track.

“No, no,” she said. “When my husband got back from Iraq, that’s the noise he made when he saw me again for the first time.”

It had not occurred to the professor that the noises at the end of the clip were noises of joy, of loved ones being reunited. But later, as he sat at his desk, playing the video over and over, he wondered how he had missed it.

When he got home, he told his husband about it. His husband, who grew up here, was perplexed, for a long time.

“It’s not obvious to you that the story is about two lovers?”

“No,” the professor said. “My students got it, though. Some of them were uncomfortable with it, but it was clear to them from the noise.”

“Well,” said the husband, “that’s something. In my day, it would have been clear to us from the young marriage, since she wasn’t pregnant. Times change.”

Wildly Inappropriate Speculation about Thomas’s Phone Call to Hill

When a man’s wife calls a woman after almost 20 years, after that wife’s husband has gone on to have a successful career, and what that woman did was to accuse him of something that got the woman made into a national joke, and asks that woman why she did what she did and for an apology and she uses the term “pray about this,” that wife is having some grave doubts about her husband right now that have nothing to do with Hill, though Thomas is hoping they do.

Just my opinion.

Haslam: So, Just Past “Pissy” is “Acquiesce”?

Oh, hell, I’m as terrified of a Haslam gubernatorial reign as the next person who values her right to bodily autonomy and her access to birth control, but look at how he gets all pissy at the Firearms Association and then caves! We’ve got two weeks. We need some more people to try this–demand something from him he doesn’t want to give and then keep pushing until he gets pissy and then keep pushing some more.

If we find that this is just how he does, we can use this to our advantage.

As for the Guns in Everywhere push, call me when state legislators start pushing to lift the ban on guns at Legislative Plaza. Until then, they’re full of shit.

Bill Haslam and the Bogeyman

Folks, once a politician in Tennessee starts talking about abortion, you might as well just read that as “I don’t actually have any ideas for fixing the state and so I need to bring out the bogeyman to scare you!”

Tennessee, it is time for you to realize, they have made it as difficult as legally possible to get an abortion in this state (while still preserving the ability for their daughters and wives and mistresses to get them, should need be) and it has been for at least the past three or four years. This is it. This is what “you won!” looks like.

But now they’ve got a problem. They have been riding that “we will have a victory over abortion!” train so hard and so long to such success that they don’t want off it. They still want to be able to pull out the bogeyman and have him work on you. So, now the problem isn’t just abortion. Now the bogeyman is Planned Parenthood. And when they find a way to defund Planned Parenthood?

Mark my word, they will find another bogeyman.

Because they have no ideas and it’s easier to come up with bogeymen than it is to come up with solutions for our state.

But, in lighter news, the Haslam administration is going to be hilarious, because he’s so easily made pissy. Maybe we should start taking bets on how often he will threaten to take something away from Tennessee if he’s going to be criticized about his handling of it.

Our First Blood Stain

I woke up this morning, stumbled to the bathroom, and stepped in something warm and slick. I turned on the light and it was a huge pile of already-chewed cat food. Then, out in the hall, there was more spit-up, and then, in the back room, even more, but this also had an ominous reddish already turning brown tinge. Now, it was not like when Stella, rest her soul, was oozing blood from her mouth, which was clearly only blood and clearly a lot of it. This was 75% saliva and 25% blood, but enough to leave a nice stain.

I thought, frankly, it was the dog, just based on the fact that usually if the cats throw up cat food, if we don’t get it immediately cleaned up, the dog will eat it, but then I was just sitting here on Twitter asking Heather from Home Ec 101 about whether the stain is removable or if the back room just has character now when the orange cat came into the living room and threw up all over the carpet. No blood, thank god.

So, now I’m thinking he’s the culprit, which, fuck me, I don’t know. He’s sleeping in a chair near me now, oh, and glaring at anything that interrupts him (like loud traffic), so I guess we just keep an eye on him? If he throws up again before I go to work, we’ll have to figure out how to get him to the vet.

Fuck me, if we lose another cat this year I will be crushed.

18. The Nashville Tunnels

Every once in a while someone will claim there are tunnels under downtown Nashville, linking the old buildings and running out to the river. What’s strange is that is this obviously true. There are newer tunnels like the storm water system under Second Avenue or the tunnel that connects Legislative Plaza with the Capitol. And there are older tunnels through which heat and electric have been run. Shoot, Timothy Demonbreun and Elizabeth Bennett lived in a cave! Is a cave with two entrances not a tunnel?

So, why, when you ask most folks if there are tunnels under downtown Nashville, do they say “No”?

This is the answer I heard from a man I’ll call Elias. Elias isn’t from Nashville. He’d flown in specifically to retrieve Rabbi Heiman’s remains, if there were any. A friend of a friend got me a meeting with him over breakfast before he left again, never to return.

Here is what he told me, parts of which, obviously, had been told to him.

There are a series of tunnels running under downtown. Not utility tunnels, but honest secret passages, designed to allow people to sneak out of buildings unseen and down to the river.

Most of these tunnels were put in places shortly after the Civil War. Regardless of where their sympathies lied, the occupation was very difficult for the citizens of Nashville. Fields had been destroyed. Almost all of the trees had been cut or burned down. The streets were thick with soldiers and the attendant illicit businesses that sprang up to serve them. And then, after Lincoln’s assassination, there was a very real fear that the Federal government would come into the South and annihilate it in retaliation

People wanted protected escape routes. And so the tunnels were put in.

After the the destruction of the city ceased to feel like an immediate threat, the tunnels started to serve other purposes. They became a way for white men to slip in and out of Black Bottom unseen by disapproving neighbors, for liquor and prostitutes to make their way into “good” establishments, and, by the early 1900s, there were rumors of something else,that the tunnels had become a safe place for the worst kinds of men.

People disappeared in the tunnels. They went in and they never came out.

This was kept secret, as much as possible, by the town fathers because no one wanted the police to look into what else was going on in the tunnels.

But it was impossible to cover up the disappearance of Portia Rutledge, a lovely girl from a prominent family. She had been with her sister and her sister’s husband, exploring the tunnels that ran from the brand new Hume Fogg school towards the river. Her sister and brother-in-law had turned a corner just moments before her, mere seconds, and she was gone. She never rounded that corner.

They searched the tunnels as far as they could, but by 1920, it was a maze beneath the city streets.  They came up for help and a search party was organized. For three days they searched, but there was no sign of her.

Weeks later, two street kids were in the tunnels, trying to escape the heat and the truant officer, when they heard faint sobbing. They followed the noise and, eventually, found Portia Rutledge’s body, maybe a hundred yards from one of the Hume Fogg tunnel entrances.

Elias told me that there wasn’t a mark on her body.

This is where the story gets very strange. Portia Rutledge’s body had been found, within easy distance of a tunnel entrance, and yet no one would go in and retrieve the body. Stranger still, the papers were still reporting her missing. People were speculating that she’d fallen in love with someone her family disapproved of and that she was probably living in Bowling Green, laughing at everyone still looking for her.

One of the families in Rabbi Heiman’s congregation owned a dry goods store downtown. And they had begun to hear a woman sobbing in the basement of their store. They mentioned this to Rabbi Heiman, who thought it was strange, but he assured them that the sobbing woman was probably just a prostitute living in the tunnels. He advised them to leave some bread on the other side of their tunnel entrance, just a little something to make her life easier.

Shortly after that the owner of the store overheard the street kids talking, not only about the crying in the tunnels, but the body their friends had discovered, and the store owner became very concerned. By the description the kids gave, he was certain that it was Portia Rutledge. He was also becoming more certain that the sobbing in the tunnel was connected to her body being left in the tunnel. The shop owner went to see the Rabbi and told him his suspicions and what he overheard the kids saying.

“Her body has been found,” Rabbi Heiman said, “and yet no one has moved it?”

“I know this is not our concern,” the shop owner said. “Maybe this is some kind of family tradition?”

But they both knew that was not true.

Rabbi Heiman mulled this over for days. He felt compelled, suspecting her spirit was trapped down there, to try to do something. He also knew that he might be placing his family and congregation in a great deal of danger if he, in any way, made it seem as if they could be blamed for her disappearance. Even connecting himself to her recovery might be enough to cast suspicion for her death.

“I should go look,” Rabbi Heiman said to the shop owner.

“No, no,” the shop owner said. “Let someone in the Chevra Kadisha go.”

“No. If there is trouble with her people, I will be the most likely to get out of it,” said the Rabbi.

He decided to go into the tunnels through the basement of the dry goods store and make his way up, unseen, to Hume Fogg. He never made it that far and he came out of the tunnel deeply shaken. The owner of the dry goods store helped him sit on a crate. The owner’s son brought him some water.

“Just a few blocks up,” he motioned with his hand, before wiping his brow, “I started to hear footsteps, heavy footsteps, in front of me. I dimmed my lantern and ducked into a side tunnel. I could hear the footsteps getting closer and closer. Finally, they were so loud I would have sworn there was a man not three feet from me. But I could see, even by dim light, that the tunnel was empty.

“I heard a voice, thought. A man’s voice. He said ‘This ain’t no place for a man of God, Reverend. Down here’s all the stuff He don’t see.'”

“And the girl?”

“I didn’t find her. I will have to try again.”

“Let her own people worry about her,” the store owner said.

“But now I know,” the Rabbi said. “If I find her, I can leave a note for her family, tell them where to look.”

The Rabbi went down in the tunnels again the next day. He had been gone maybe an hour when the shop owner and his son heard distant screams.

“Rabbi?” The shop owner yelled into the tunnel entrance. “Rabbi!”

The two grabbed a lantern and started down into the tunnel. Far, far ahead of them, they saw a dim, shaking light rushing towards them.

The Rabbi was yelling, “Run! Go back! Go back!”  They began to slowly back up, afraid to leave the tunnel without him. They were, maybe, five feet from the door to their basement. Their lantern cast a pool of light maybe ten feet beyond what came from the basement. And the man and his son both saw the Rabbi, for a second, at the far edge of the darkness. “Go back,” he said again.

And then he fell, or maybe his feet were yanked out from under him, and he hit the ground, hard. The man scrambled forward to try to grab the Rabbi, but the Rabbi screamed, “No,” and the man’s son dragged the man back into the basement. The son slammed the door.

The man and his son tried later that day to search the tunnels for any sign of the Rabbi. There was none. In the distance, they thought they sometimes heard heavy footsteps, though.

Later, after the story got out that the Rabbi had returned to St. Louis (a place the Rabbi had never actually even visited), the man and his son blocked the tunnel, at least a hundred feet beyond their door. Shortly after this, one of the other downtown business owners came to pay them a visit.

“You need to unblock the tunnel,” he said. “You can do what you want in your own store, but those tunnels remain open. Do you understand? We have a deal that the tunnels remain open.”

“Who has a deal?” the shop owner’s son asked.

The businessman looked angry and frightened. “It’s not any of your business.”

Elias told me that other things had happened, things that made the shop owner’s family very, very afraid, not of the thing in the tunnels, but of the other businessmen downtown. The Rabbi’s home burnt down, for instance, and the Rabbi’s widow and his children barely escaped with their lives. They were sent to St. Louis, where it was thought they’d be safer.

The shop keeper and his son began to put a little cash aside. Not even enough to be noticed. They didn’t want to raise any suspicions at the bank or among the other businessmen, didn’t want anyone gossiping about how strange it was that their profits were down, even as their foot traffic remained steady.

But enough so that whenever a hole was dug for a new building, they could pay a person to search whatever tunnels were discovered for the Rabbi’s remains.

Elias had been hired by the shop owner’s grandson, himself now an old man, to get into the tunnels opened up while they were excavating the new convention center.

“And did you find him?” I asked.

“I did,” he said quietly. “He was about a hundred yards from one of the Hume-Fogg entrances, just dust and bones and a few scraps of clothing. I was able to identify him by his cufflinks. Nearby was a woman’s skeleton.”

“Weird,” I said. “Do you think he found her?”

“No, I think his body had been placed near hers after he was killed.”

“My god. Did you recover her body, too?”

“No,” Elias said, quietly. “that was not my job.”

“And what about that thing, that man? Do you think he’s still down there?”

Elias stared at the people passing by us for a long, long time.

“I know he is,” he said. “Let me ask you? Do you think it’s possible that he is worse now than he was? That killing a man of God could make him worse? Or do you think it’s always been that bad down there? How could a city have sat on top of that for a hundred years?”

“You said they mentioned something about a deal.”

“Who would depend on a deal made with the likes of him?”

So, Here We Go

These next two weeks will be the big push on the book. In a nice development, The Front Porch is going to stock my book in the cafe, so there will be at least one place people can just happen by and find my book. I have three things this week and five things next.

And then, I don’t know. I’m about halfway to my goal, but I’m still feeling like that hump between me and people I don’t know but who might like the book is just almost insurmountable.

Which, most of the time, I’m pretty down about, but today I’m like “almost! It’s only almost insurmountable.”

But, shoot, people, this is hard. Honestly, it’s a million times harder than writing the book.

But I love the reading out loud part, so I’m glad I’m going to be doing more of that.

It’s going to be cool, these next couple of weeks, an adventure of sorts.

A Gentle Reminder

Wednesday, 6:30, Ri’chards, out on the patio. Dress appropriately, remembering that it’s out of town and right on the creek. Come, shell out for dinner, and I’ll read you some stories. Update: Richard himself says it will be 60 by 7:30, so wear a sweater or a jacket. He’s also planning an appropriate appetizer–bat wings. No, I’m not sure either, but I am delighted.

Friday, 6:00, The Goddess and the Moon. Come, don’t trip on the little ledge by the front door, and I’ll read you some stories.

If you can’t come, send good vibes.


I was just down this weekend. I was on cold medicine and then throwing out things that had great value to me and just feeling like I’m failing the book and I didn’t get to a park so I’m failing Pith a little. Blah blah blah.

So, I made sure to get up and take the dog for a walk, because, in general, when I’m feeling such uniform blues which are just floundering for a reason to exist, it’s because I’m a little physically stagnant. Not always, but often enough that walking needs to be tried. And this weekend was pretty stagnant.

Anyway, the sumac is in a deep red and that always makes me feel good, like I am overhearing a very profound secret in a language I don’t know. Not that you can tell from this picture, but trust me. The sumac knows some shit.

I also spent the evening digging in my dead ancestors, which makes me happy. There’s something calming about pouring through old records. And here’s what I noticed yesterday. As well as Luke Phillips living next to a C T Phillips in the 1840 census, in two other censuses we find him living near Phillipses–a Jay W. Phillips, who is just a couple of years younger than Luke and also born in New York, and a Frank Phillips, who, it turns out, is Jay’s son. Frank Phillips is also the name of my Grandpa’s dad (Luke’s grandson). Could Oscar have named his boy after a cousin? Weirdly enough, Jay also has a son, Bruce, but my Dad says my grandma named all them so that’s got to be just one hell of a coincidence.

So, I’m feeling pretty confident in a way I can’t prove, that Luke and Jay are brothers. So, that got me thinking of this C T Phillips. Now, there is no C Phillips I could find in Oakland County before or after 1840, but this C T Phillips would have been a generation ahead of Luke and Jay (Jay’s not in the 1840 census, maybe because he was living with CT?). And I did find a Charles Phillips in 1830 in St. Clair County (which is a few counties northeast of Oakland). His son, also Charles, was the blacksmith (though, from what I found in Google books, they may both have been blacksmiths.) AND Charles Jr. has a brother, Archibald.

Two nice things about Archibald. One, he lived with Charles his whole life and never married. Two, he’s got an unusual name (as opposed to Charles), so I was able to use Archibald to trace Charles down through the years. I also found Archibald and Charles’ mom–Derutia, another unique name, easy to search for. And through her and Archibald, I was able to learn that Archibald was born in Fort Edward, New York and that Charles Sr. and Derutia came to Michigan before at least Archibald, if not most of their children, in order to secure land, and then were followed by the children.

So, now, I’m deeply suspicious that Charles and Derutia are Luke and Jay’s parents as well (I don’t know if you remember, but other distant relatives had Luke being born in a town in New York that didn’t exist until after he’d already come to Michigan).

And that makes me happy. I’m not sure how to prove it, but that’s my suspicion.