Sharon Jones Shakes It; Drunk Girl Breaks It

So, despite the late Tuesday timing, I went because Chrissy promised I’d remember this one. It was 9:30 pm and the opener hadn’t taken the stage. I’d done fifteen minutes in the beer line to get my bottled water only to learn that the bar was cash only. I was life-threateningly parched; still, I obediently stepped out to the ATM, then did my time in line again.

I heard a few catcalls from front stage and knew it was time to weave back through the mass of tall bodies that refused to acknowledge the existence of shorter ones. By the time I reached the front, I was pretty well ready for a fight. Enter drunk girl. A decidedly beautiful twenty-something trying to look like a 1970s supermodel interrupted her faux, stage-side photo shoot to get up in my face. She reeked. I no longer regretted opting for Aquafina vs. Fat Tire. I got a contact buzz just from the fumes. “Where do you think you’re going? What’s happening here?,” Glamour Girl challenged. I still don’t know why.

“Are you a bouncer?,” I asked. She let me pass.

I rejoined my friends and within the next thirty seconds, the opening act owned the room ( An L.A. band, they call themselves “Fitz and the Tantrums” and they put on the best live show I’ve seen since David Byrne performed with the Tosca Strings in 2005. And speaking of David Byrne, Fitz looks like the love child of Byrne and Geraldine Ferraro, a trait that certainly works in his favor for me. Don’t ask.

It took me a moment to recover from my recent and unanticipated confrontation, but soon all the soul in the air had me shaking my groove thing. Glamour girl was too, and I even felt a slight kinship with her as with everyone else in the nightclub. “We are all just stardust together,” a friend lists on her Facebook profile under “Religious Views.”

I felt a slight sense of loss after the Tantrums ended their set and I fretted that Ms. Jones might not live up to the hype. Um, she lives up to it, with her eight-piece brass band, perfectly controlled wail, and a fifty-year-old strength that makes every woman in the room want to be just like her. As her song lyrics indicate, she learned a lot the hard way. But she learned a lot.

If I could even just stand still as confidently as she does, I know no one would dare get in my face to ask me where I think I’m going.

And Jones was kind. Even to drunken, Glamour Shots Girl. Jones invites a lot of crowd participation, a habit I would not tolerate from any other stage diva. Note: I really hate sing-a-longs. Jones invited “the youngest man in the room” to join her on stage. And let me tell you, baby-faced, white, and likely an SAE, that child did not look like he was going to be able to handle her. Ah, but he delivered. Hip swinging, shoulder shaking, and a down and dirty groove face-to-face with one of the most spirited songstresses on the international music scene. Button down polo shirt or no, that frat boy got downright pornographic. Get it, frat boy.

Then it was “the ladies” turn. Two of my friends took Jones’ offer alongside about five other femme fatales from the audience. I stayed glued to the sticky floor down below but enjoyed seeing them shine. They were awesome, though a bit eclipsed by the aforementioned horribly intoxicated young woman who kept blocking Sharon Jones’ spotlight. The shit-faced urchin kept bending over and shaking out her hair like a stripper; spinning around, wiggling her booty, stumbling drunkenly, bending over like a stripper again, and then repeating the whole cycle almost indefinitely. She did do this Wonder Woman whirl that was pretty good. It was hard for Sharon Jones to get her off the stage.

For much of the remainder, the young woman’s friend banged an empty beer bottle against the stage in rhythm with the songs. “She’s going to break that,” Chrissy yelled into my ear. Smash. After the crowd dispersed, we noted the jagged remnants left behind for the cleanup crew.

Once we reached the open air, we saw shit-faced girl running wildly into the street and then back to her boyfriend like a pet dog that’s just been let out to pee before dashing back to its master.

I was a little worried about her.

I hoped her friends and (MUCH older) male companion would make sure she got home safely and that she would remember a great night fondly (if not a bit spottily). I hoped we both went home “a better woman than we were before.”


Dear Love,

I found out that one can actually be arrested for having an expired
license tag. I could be locked up wearing a fashionable orange jump
suit right now, and Big Barb could be waiting for me to drop the soap
in the shower. So, if I’m arrested for having a suspended license tag
for lapse of insurance that never really lapsed, and I decide to spend
my one phone call on you, here’s what to do (don’t lose this email):

Sound comforting while I sob some incoherent nonsense about jail
cafeterias, the Bone Yard, and how I had to hammer out my own new
license plate while visiting “the Big Yard.”

Next, instruct me on some crucial martial arts maneuvers that could be helpful for surviving any sudden and violent prison riots.

Finally, say something sweet about how I look great in orange, and
hang up the receiver.

Now, call Ablaze Bail Bonds at 542-BAIL.

Tell the sales rep that “No, we won’t qualify for the discount since
this is only my first arrest.” For future reference, they grant discounts to third-time customers. But you have to have done something really bad.

Find out how much it’s going to be to bust me out, and go to the
Chatham Marketplace and take up a collection.

Pay Ablaze whatever they ask, and don’t leave without grabbing one of
their bright red promo ink pens labeled, “When You Need a Little Help from the Pen.”

If you can’t raise enough money, buy a dry erase board from Staples
and haul it on over to the Bynum General Store. Call a Community
meeting and devise a way to rig up some explosives near my jail cell
for a breakout.

For what is enjoying the constant challenge of life-long love if not to have someone to help you plan prison breaks or to call when your neurotic fear of unjust arrest becomes a bright orange reality?

You know I’d do the same for you.

At Least You’re Not Svetx: The “I’m Okay; You’re Okay” Blog of the Post Nineties Era

It was the seventh 30-minute recess of the first grade when I began suspecting I was odd. Actually, one of the teachers told me, “You’re odd.” She formulated this assessment just after I confessed that I hated recess. I just wanted to stay inside and play with the Baby Jesus doll in the toy bin. But I always attracted negative attention for being overly possessive of the Christ child. Often, I was forced to surrender him to the powers that be. This was a special trauma since every god-fearing five-year-old knows what happened to the Messiah the last time one of his friends surrendered him to an authority figure.

Still, crucifixion of a loved one could never rival the horrors of the concrete jungle and, of course, the iron jungle gym, a tool clearly engineered by parents of unwanted children. To a homesick, Baby Jesus-stalking-five-year-old wearing corduroy koulots and untied shoelaces, 30- minutes felt like a day-long New England church sermon spoken in Old English.

It’s significant to note that I started school a year early, and I didn’t know how to tie my shoe laces yet. My mother died when I was four and a half; my father often worked as an electrical engineer in a place called “Hollywood, Kentucky,” and my grandmother was in charge of all the safe deposit keys at Valley Fidelity Bank in downtown Knoxville. No one was home during the day, so my dad and grandmother prematurely deported me to a place that strictly enforced recess. There, I learned fast that the concrete jungle is no place for a child with loose laces.

The teacher assigned to guard the prisoners during that dismal half hour of doom, the same teacher who deemed me “odd,” simply did not know this. It wasn’t her fault. What six year old doesn’t know how to tie his/her shoes? How was she to know that I was a barely-five-year-old masquerading as a normal first-grader? So, when I beseeched her assistance with my shoelace predicament, she assumed I was lazy. She accused me of being just another attention-hungry white child trying to get folks to do everything for me.

I felt grossly misunderstood, a perception that was growing increasingly familiar to me. Conversely, she felt unfairly saddled with naive, blonde, koulot be-clad Aryans forcing her hand to shoe tie as a way of upholding a long-entrenched social structure fraught with evil, inequality, sorrow, and subservience. She felt grossly used and underestimated. A perception that had already been long familiar to her.

Ironically enough, recess taught me to be everything but attention-seeking and dictatorially dependent. Survival depended upon keeping a low profile. Attention was never something for which one should strive in a land of posturing jump-rope divas and bullying little boys pretending to be Gene Simmons. And I knew damn well that low profile maintenance requires self-sufficiency. So, I was desperate before I sought help. Naturally clumsy, I needed to eliminate any potential risks, and undone shoelaces were a major liability especially if I found myself in need of a quick bipedal getaway. Which I did. Soon after I got chewed out for being a spoiled, narcissistic whitey. I was just minding my own business, nursing my bruised ego following teacher-rejection when Shannon Green “declared war” on me for no good reason other than allegedly brown-nosing the recess warden.

She charged her blood-thirsty, brainwashed minions to run me down, a herd of salivating hyenas corraling supper. I fled toward the front-most middle swing set pole, which I knew was “base,” that locus of safety considered neutral ground. But I didn’t make it. I tripped over my shoelaces, fell, and skinned both knees and hands. The teacher felt terrible, dispersed the rabid mob, and sought band-aids for me immediately. They had Snoopies on them. I couldn’t fully bend my legs for nearly a week. But my dad taught me to tie my shoes that very night. So, I at least ended the day empowered. Plus, I got to watch the Gong Show & play with Mr. Potato Head before bedtime.

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Remembering the King

“I met my soul mate,” I announced to my roommates and a couple of friends. “We talked all night long, and get this: when he was a kid, instead of making his G.I. Joe men fight, he made them have peace talks.”

“Is he gay?,” Lisa queried.

I paused at least 40 seconds before answering. “He’s sensitive,” I defended defensively.

(Eight years after the fact, I discover this: at a subsequent gourmet dinner cooked for us by the alleged soul mate, my friends passed a note under our faux finish oak table. It bore tiny check boxes below the fateful questions, “What do you think? Gay or Not Gay? Check yes or no.” The result was a 50/50 split.

He was gay, but that’s beside the point.

Will was one of those ill-fated romances that fades into unforgettable, um, friendship leading to hilarious road trips, mischievous scheming, and treasured mixed tapes. I still listen to his mixed tapes: the Sundays, Morrissey, Erasure. Okay, Erasure. I know, all right?

For our first date, he drove me downtown in his beat-up Honda Accord that he’d worked really hard to buy. Conversation was running smoothly, but I was nervous. We were at a stop light when we wrecked into our first awkward silence. I panicked.

Think fast, I said silently to myself. Okay, you know that he has a cat. You can either ask him how long he’s had his cat, or you could ask him how old his cat is.

What I said was, “So, how long is your cat?”

40-second pause. He looked at me and set his palms about 2.5 feet apart to illustrate his precious feline’s measurements.

We’re bonded for life then, and I was relieved to find that I could be safely and openly nervous with him.

We were heading downtown because of my freak pheromone. I’d told him about it, but he didn’t believe me. “Stick around,” I’d warned.

He believed that if there’s some freak pheromone experience to be had, it would definitely be in downtown Greenville, SC. He was spot on.

We visited the one and only thrift shop on Main Street in 1993. This was pre-Falls Park, before Greenville embraced the creative class. I bought a ring that looked like an abacus, and Will bought a fedora. I asked the clerk if they had a public restroom. He informed that it was for employees only but sent us up the street to the Hyatt Regency. I liked the Hyatt for its waterfalls and decorative pools. I took my shoes off to wade briefly, but this exacerbated my urgent need for a ladies room.

We entered at the second floor and heard a ritualistic drum beat. At the Hyatt Regency. We leaned over the balcony rail to see a flood of figures dressed in black robes. They were beating the floor with long, wooden staffs. Together, we looked to our right. There stood a hard-bodied female wearing a black leather bikini and spiked dog collar. She held a whip and looked quite sure of herself.

“See?” I looked to Will for acknowledgment that the freak pheromone was not merely mythical.

“Let’s go before we get strapped to the sacrificial alter,” he replied.

We crossed the street to Fudrucker’s. Will scooted into a booth; I walked briskly and awkwardly to the rear restrooms. I noticed more darkly attired devil worshipers, but I didn’t have time to worry about it.

I heard a ruckus. When I departed the lavatory, I saw that Will was ashen and seemed to be in some sort of trance.

I shook him by the shoulders and asked, “what happened to you?”

He pointed to a robed renegade in the corner.

“You see that guy over there?” he implored.

I nodded. “Of course I see him. He’s as solid as my pheromone.”

“Okay, now. You see that group of people over there?”

“Yeah. Just tell me,” I said, noticing that two of them were wearing t-shirts innocuously advertising a sci-fi convention.

“Okay. Well, that guy yelled, ‘Give me a K!'”
“They all chanted, ‘K!'”
“Then, he yelled, ‘Give me an I!'”
“They all chanted, ‘I!'”
“Give me an ‘N!'”
“They all chanted, ‘N!'”
“Give me a ‘G!'”
“They all Chanted, ‘G!'”
“Then [like a cheerleader], he called, ‘What does that spell?'”
They all yelled, “ELVIS!!!”

Will and I got chocolate chip cookies to go and left.

Pachelbel played over sidewalk speakers.

“Oh, do you like Pachelbel?,” he asked.

I thought he’d said, “Do you like Taco Bell?” I was hungry, and the cookie was not enough to satiate my growling stomach’s demands.

“Yeah! I would totally LOVE one of their beef burritos right now.”

He stares at me quizzically.

As we stand at the street corner waiting for the light to change, another freak stops his car, leans out, makes a grotesque face, and exclaims, “Moowaaaaaaaaaaaa” at us.

“See?,” I said more than asked.
Will and I were friends for a long time after he came out. Before then, we’d almost kiss, but something felt not quite right. One of us would always interrupt the moment. We talked about this later, how I’d look at him and feel raw unbridled attraction, but when I got close enough to smell him, there was nothing. No spark, no young adulthood, over-sexed need to grab him by the shirt and stick my tongue in his mouth.

One night, a week after Will and I had argued and stopped talking to each other for no real good reason, my friend Kasey showed up at my door with a bottle of Boone’s Farm Blackberry wine. “It’s from Will,” she tells me. “He sent me here b/c he needs to tell you something. He said you should have some of this first.”

I know what this is about. I drink straight from the bottle.

A bit later, I hear a pebble strike my apartment window. Then another. And another before I reach my front door to greet him. Will asks if we can go for a walk.

We head across the street to campus. He tells me, and I feel relief. Relief that we’re talking to each other, relief that we know each other, and relief that this typically “open as a book” guy can be fully open about this.

I remember a time at lunch when a bunch of Sigma Nus were at our table. They weren’t with us. They were just at our table. I loved eating in the dining hall. It had huge windows from floor to ceiling, about three stories high. You could see the full span of the lake, the swans, the miniature marsh that was forming from partially submerged cedar trees. The year before I matriculated, there’d been a MASSIVE food fight in there. White Merita rolls launched from wall to wall. Leftover mystery meat casserole hit students square in the face. I was mad at my parents for not conceiving me a year sooner so I could have been there.

But times were not so bright in the Furman cafeteria this semester. The frat boys (not my favorite of campus populations, as I established in “Far More Fond of Cabbage”), were discussing their views on homosexuality. Like the stereotypical bible beating, sorority-scamming cad he most surely was, one “brother” declared, “If I ever find a fag around here, I’ll make sure he transfers and never comes back.”

Proud and self-righteous, I slam my silverware down on my tray, stand up, and stomp away in indignation.

Will stays and commiserates like nothing said there is offensive.

As we stride toward the lake, I think about how lonely that moment must have felt for him.

Will tells me that he’s always had a girlfriend. Always.

His father is a Baptist minister.

He says that he’s had some sense of his sexual orientation since he was about six. I think back and guess that I have too. Well, come to think of it.

He’s tried experimenting sexually with women, but it felt so unnatural that he got physically sick.

“Seriously. I actually threw up. I always thought I could change. I’ve been going to Sunday school for a long time, and I didn’t think that God could possibly want me to be this way. He wouldn’t want me to be anything that would hurt my parents as much as this. I’ve tried now, and I’m ready to stop.”

Will is an environmentalist, a liberal, an animal rights activist, an obvious subversive.
Will is a devout man of faith.

I was the one who transferred. My dad lost his job. I only had a tiny scholarship, and private school was expensive. Will and I visited each other. We were only a few hours apart.

By that fall, he had a boyfriend named, Stephen. They stopped to kiss as we hiked somewhere on Paris Mountain. It seemed completely natural to me. How surprising that their affection didn’t phase me at all. But I still felt a tinge of jealousy when other women would flirt with Will. I let my mind settle on this only briefly and abstractly.

I was glad this happened during a weekend I was there. Stephen and Will enjoyed another PDA session in the Piggly Wiggly while we were there grabbing our traditional bottle of Boone’s Farm. His dad walked past our aisle. By then, Will and Stephen were only standing close and holding hands. We weren’t sure that his father, the preacher, had seen them. We waited and hoped that his dad would leave before we did.

We didn’t see the Reverend again, but the next morning, we found a yellow sticky note taped to the steering wheel of Will’s Honda. It read, “Will, I want you to know that I love you. No matter what. Dad.”

Will and I once discussed starting our own night-time poetry readings. Again, Greenville hadn’t yet become the mecca of underground, artsy coffee shops and riverwalk galleries that it is now. We would call these cutting-edge cultural offerings “Moonlit Musings.” I went on to start this series in Charleston. Will went on to make an important difference in the world. I thought he would.

What’s a girl to do with glitter but no special shoe?

Fighting the Power
Fighting the Power

So, as the blog rolls, you’ll learn that Shannon, Amazon of the first-grade recess war, served a significant role in my life far beyond the tipping see-saw. Sometimes she served as friend rather than foe. Sadly for me, friend and foe weren’t antonyms in her world.

During snack, I confided to her that I wanted to fly, like Wonder Woman or Isis. I carried my Wonder Woman action figure to school every day, and Chip Baker and I were frequently scolded for talking Super Friends during nap time.

Shannon told me that my dream might not be so unattainable as I believed. She had “the Secret.” I just needed to put my desire for flight out there into the ether, and the universe would provide. As long as I poured glitter on my arms. That’s what Wonder Woman and Superman did, she claimed. And she, herself had flown many times. Many times? Many times.

She just seemed so confident about it all.

I couldn’t concentrate on classroom exercises that day. We were to learn to count to 100. I still blame Shannon for the fact that the neighbor’s dog is a better mathematician than I am. Freestyle, open-air aviation offered far more intrigue than learning to regurgitate numerals in a sequence. So, all I could think about was soaring, arms outstretched, body hovering stiff as a board above fountain, stream, and skyscraper. Oh, what freedom — that feeling of wind against skin and the profundity of scoring eye contact with fairy tale bluebirds flying parallel paths with my own crime-fighting trajectory!

My grandmother (the Old Testament one — we’ll get to that in subsequent entries) retrieved me from the schoolhouse at 4:30 pm. Such a long time to wait! I’d never been so grateful to see that green LTD with dark velour seats smelling of musky, musty old Aunt odor.

Back at Grandma’s house, I ransacked my craft drawer for gold glitter. Might as well go with the blingiest batch.¬† I kicked off my Miss Piggy-themed sneakers and stripped down to my flammable Wonder Woman Underoos before scaling our velvety antique sofa. Barefoot with toes curled over the wide arm of my perch, I doused myself and Grandma’s carpeting with magic sparkle. I drew in a deep breath, squinted my focus on blind ambition, and took the leap. There was to be no gliding airborne through the house, along the underbelly of ceiling, effortlessly rotating my body sideways to squeeze gracefully through doorways. There was a belly flop on bare floor.

The next day, I confronted Shannon with my wounded rib and shattered pride. I felt so betrayed. I thought she was my friend. Incredulous, she stared at me doe-eyed and asked, “Well, did you wear the special shoes?”

What special shoes? She swore that she had mentioned them. And she just seemed so confident . . .

We thought it was a pot roast

Sometimes I feel narcissistic for believing that weirder things happen to me than to other people. Surely, we all have morose encounters of a nerd kind. Some of us are just more thin-skinned about them than others, yes?

“No,” my friends say. “More bizarre things happen to you and with FAR more frequency than what befalls most sentient beings.” It’s my freak pheromone, they tell me. Like a drag queen to Coty’s Emeraude All Over Body Spray, it attracts odd cosmic coincidences, general catastrophe, crazed stalkers, and the sort of items, left by previous apartment tenants, that no one should ever have to discover in one’s freezer.

My friend, JRo once promised to write a biography about me and my famed pheromone. She was to entitle it, “At least You’re not Svetx: The ‘I’m Okay, You’re Okay’ Book of the Nineties.”

At the time of the pot roast incident, I was getting a divorce. Our house was on the market, but I wanted to remain in my cozy, quirky berg by the river. ¬†There was a rental available, one of the original mill houses on the far side of “town.” There was no central heat or air, but there was a wood stove, a lovely back porch perfect for a hammock, and a retro charm that dwarfed the fact that little barrier separated home dweller from wilderness dweller, including some Rodentia but mostly exoskeleton bearing biting beasts — crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside.

Several of my friends had lived there previously. Rugged pioneer, green-living sorts whom I immensely admired. “That’s a tough house,” one of them told me. “The bathroom’s the coldest indoor space I’ve ever experienced,” warned another, one accustomed to sleeping on the open ground at bus stations as a way to afford navigating the more travel advisory laden zones of South America. The house had loads of character, however, and terrific neighbors with good taste in beer. To live in a great place, one must make concessions.

I hadn’t known the previous tenant. I’d only heard distasteful rumors, but since there had been no recent abductions or disappearances reported, I had never suspected that my predecessor was the Blair Witch. Dust bunnies the size of pregnant hippos rolled across the floor like giant tumbleweeds. Black handprints and crayon scratches covered the walls. There was a used, stained mattress on the back porch. Three of the six windows were either outright broken or significantly cracked. You don’t want me to tell you what the bathroom was like.

In the backyard, I found half-buried action figures strewn randomly through what may have once been flower beds or vegetable gardens. Sticky, rotting trash littered the patchy expanse. Odiferous refuse floated on three feet of standing water held stagnant by a large blue garbage can.

I called the landlord and offered to paint, clean, and, of course, smudge the place if she’d reduce my rent for two months. I didn’t plan to move in for another three weeks, and this would keep my mind occupied as I avoided dwelling on my separation — the expanding sense of void that made me feel like I’d just lost an arm and was learning how to live without it.

She agreed, so I set to work. I went bold — reds, greens, and aquatic blue wall colors that relished the outdoor adventure theme the house exudes. Neighbors helped. I was contented until we finally decided to open the freezer. The power had been off for an entire month. What we found there topped all freak pheromone-induced encounters I’d experienced to date. It was a bleeding, rotting pot roast only loosely wrapped in thin plastic. My neighbor, Kerry, slammed the door closed. We simultaneously wretched at the lingering stench. She continued wretching for a full six minutes.

A nurse, she managed to keep her wits about her following her wretchcapade. Kerry walked to the counter and pulled out some rubber gloves and a new hefty, hefty cinch sack. “You wanna grab or hold the bag?” She queried. Acknowledging my weaker constitution we agreed that I should go with bag holding. Fortunately, I had a truck well-suited to hauling rotting pot roasts to the downtown dump.

After we returned, I was not yet ready to confront the freezer with Clorox. I didn’t think I would be ready for at least another 72 hours. I wrote to the landlord and informed her of the undesirable condition of her kitchen appliance. I apologized all over myself for not thinking to check the freezer sooner. I was so sorry that I had discovered a rotting pot roast in its cavernous depths. I just didn’t want her to think that I had been the one to do this to her freezer.

What I received in reply was forwarded from the previous tenant. It read (brace yourself. Really, be sure you’re seated with barf bag in ready reach): “DO NOT THROW AWAY THE POT ROAST! IT’S NOT A POT ROAST. It’s my five-year-old son’s placenta.” Her phone number followed. I refrained from calling.

There it had lain: an ephemeral human organ, a bio-hazard. Right there between the ice trays and the t.v. dinners. I thought recovery had been difficult when it was still just a pot roast. I tried to imagine what Jeffrey Dahmer would do. He’d probably wretch too. Then he’d say something like, “Oh yeah, Doll, you have GOT to get rid of that fridge. That’s too gross even for me.”

It’s a small town, and how could I not alert the neighbors? What would they do if I offered them ice for their sweet tea or mint juleps some humid summer afternoon?

It took me 5 hours of pacing and ranting to neighbors for me to formulate an emailable response explaining to the Blair Witch that it was too late for her to preserve her giant, rotting block of biomatter for the ol’ scrapbook. She had moved to DC. What? Did she want me to put the thing on ice and have it helicoptered up to her? And how does one keep moving one’s placenta from apartment to apartment over the span of half a decade and then just walk off and forget it one day?

Moreover, who the heck does this kind of thing happen to? I bet you don’t know ANYONE else who’s found a human placenta in their new freezer. The only thing weirder is when my friend, Mel got bitten by a bat at her Grandma’s house in Michigan.

My landlord claimed that the fridge was salvageable with a little disinfectant and elbow grease, but I wasn’t woman enough to handle it. I went to the nearest Habitat Home Store and purchased a replacement appliance. God knows what had lain dormant in that used contraption, but whatever it was, at least I hadn’t smelled it.

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