In college I befriended Jason Kenney, a 16-year-old classical guitar prodigy who attended the Crimson Moon Cafe’s weekly open mic night. He proved that instrumentation alone can completely fill a room, reaching cracks and corners that lyrics would overlook. I long ago had abandoned country music, but Jason’s advanced finger-picking convinced me to revisit the sounds of my Southern upbringing. Bluegrass it turns out touches me in a way that rock ‘n’ roll cannot.
Jason encouraged me to continue writing despite my full courseload, and because of that I accumulated more than 50 horribly written yet earnest poems. Open mic night gave me a deadline, and Jason, among others, indirectly held me accountable – a crossover of genres and outlets I find necessary to creatively thrive. After all, writing is a largely solitary activity, and I feed off musicians’ and visual artists’ energy.
Luckily our friendship expanded beyond the Crimson Moon Cafe. I particularly remember a night right after my first big break-up; Jason consoled me over an ice cream sundae at a restaurant on the Dahlonega square, fudge sauce providing a rich comfort not unlike the calm I feel when watching Dave Rawlings or Old Crow Medicine Show. It’s true. This girl loves banjo and chocolate.
The year Jason graduated high school, I graduated college. As a congratulatory gift, he gave me Jonathan Byrd’s The Waitress, pretty much a parting gift as well. Jason quickly embarked on a tour with musician Corey Smith, keeping company with other badasses like Jonathan Byrd himself. Other recent projects include The Family Honor and HomeGrown Revival, who recently released Leaving Wynfield Station.
It is only fitting that I saw Jason and Jonathan perform together at Eddie’s Attic last week, a reunion with an old friend and an album that, for me, partially defines the summer of 2005. Violin virtuoso David Blackmon played back-up, along with John Keane on lap steel guitar. The traditional instrumental “Big Sciota” showcased the musicians’ collective mastery – a tune that also appears on Jason’s 2005 album Without Sidewalks. Since that time, his proficiency has exploded ten-fold, most of all his songwriting and vocals. I am especially fond of the following lyric:
I’m a pine tree, and you’re a spring. I stand straight, and you wind around. When it rains, you come to me. I’m a pine, and you’re a spring.
Jonathan’s often long but always amusing in-between song banter kept the night rolling, along with my second St. Bernardus. I gladly sang along during the chorus he encouraged the audience to memorize:
If you’ve got it, a big truck brought it. If you want it, a big truck’s on it.
I tipped back and forth on my stool, floored to see Jason again and watch Jonathan Byrd live for the first time. In a way, it sounded like ice cream and chocolate.
Below, Jason provides vocals on Jonathan Byrd’s “Jesus Was a Bootlegger.” (left to right: David Blackmon, Jason Kenney, Jonathan Byrd and John Keane) -
Last fall while eating brunch at Gato Bizco, I noticed a girl in a backless t-shirt at the bar, drawing attention away from my Cross-Eyed Scramble and to her tattoo: a banjo with frets that seemed to align with the vertebrae on her spine.
“Cooool,” I muffled while drooling over cheese and tofu.
I haven’t forgotten her intricate ink.
Fast-forward to this past Tuesday, when the Back Pockets performed in the Georgia State University Library Plaza for free. After lead singer Emily Kempf stripped to a bra and panties as she is prone to do, her discarded Medusa wig and sheer black dress revealed said tattoo.
I had caught the Back Pockets once before at an Eyedrum event, nodding off on the bleachers to prior acts. I jerked awake to find a gaggle of teenagers in scarves giggling at me, so I shot them a thumbs up and, despite my efforts to remain conscious, fell back asleep.
Then a couple of chicks donning togas and ivy headdresses started stomping on a smaller stage in the corner, disturbing my slumber, leaving me no choice but to investigate the commotion on the other side of the room. Their I-don’t-give-a-shit weirdness reinvigorated me, along with I guess another bandmate who curled like ribbon around a pole. Emily and back-up singer Haley remained clothed, so perhaps the Back Pockets have grown more outlandish with time. After all, at Tuesday’s performance, two people acted dead at a dinner table on a ledge above the stage, finally sitting up to shred apart a pink teddy bear and drink its stuffing from golden cups. Another “dancer” in the Back Pockets’ enormous troupe taped fresh tomatoes to his chest, spilling others from a bag, nibbling others.
Because of my intense focus on the scenes the Back Pockets create, I find trouble describing the group’s sound, other than the word “tribal.” The only lyrics I recall are “Do you remember when you were young?”
In an indieATL Session video, Emily emerges from what my boyfriend calls a “hipster vagina”: a circle of 10 Back Pockets members on the floor with folded arms, hands raising to reveal their leader. How can one pay attention to lyricism when distracted by a hipster vagina? (I initially posted the indieATL Session video, but it was removed from YouTube. See an alternate video at the bottom of this post.)
It doesn’t matter. The Back Pockets have made an impression on me either way. I mentioned the Library Plaza show to a colleague at least 25 years my senior.
“Want to see a picture?” I asked after describing Emily’s pink bra and hole-y underwear, not waiting for an answer before shoving my camera in my coworker’s face.
“Well now that’s…interestin’,” she commented.
“You should come with me next time. The audience doesn’t take off their clothes.”
“Now wait a minute,” she wagged her finger. “I reserve the right to strip.”
Even the most bitter haters would find despising Ruby Velle hard. While motivating, her lyrics lack the saccharine sentimentality that often induces me to hurl. Bolstered by her seven-piece back-up band Soulphonics, she sings about finding herself and keeping faith in a manner so real, I feel like we’re talking one-on-one in front of a bathroom sink at Star Bar. In fact, my friend overheard her engaging in a powder room pep talk at her show a few Thursdays ago, pumping some chick up about achieving self-contentment.
I want a heart-to-heart with Ruby Velle in the bathroom at Star Bar.
Despite her Desi heritage, Ruby Velle encapsulates Southern class and charm, touching on topics I associate with soul icons like Gladys Knight and Freda Payne. Yet Ruby is only 26 years old, somehow reviving the trumpet, triangle and saxophone that electric guitars, indie horns and synthesizers swallowed whole.
Her biggest hit “Feet on the Ground” encourages the listener to carve her own path despite external pressures (see video at the bottom of this post):
“What’s a girl to do when the path that she knows ain’t the same path that you chose, when the way she’s going is not the way you used to go?” – AND – “Doin’ things right for yourself, tryin’ to please someone else…”
While struggling to achieve satisfaction is one of my favorite life crises to discuss, Ruby Velle’s newest song “The Agenda” illuminates an irritating societal plague, what my coworker J brilliantly coined as Perceived Utility Index (PUI). If your PUI ranks highly on someone else’s radar, he/she is likely to interact with you, while if another person calculates your PUI near zero, he/she has no reason to acknowledge your existence or treat you with public regard. In summary, people often inflate you with flattery when they want something. In “The Agenda,” however, Ruby Velle asserts that not everyone is out to get you, and soon enough you’ll build a support network of decency and truth.
When I first saw Ruby Velle & Soulphonics at the 2010 Midsummer Music Festival, I was disappointed to find the merch table devoid of CDs, soon after downloading “Feet on the Ground,” the one single I could score from iTunes. Although a couple more singles now are digitally available, I still await at least an EP.
But I realize that great things flourish with time: unaffected lyricism, polished recordings, and the bend in the road that leads a little farther from toil and a little closer to joy.
I don’t drive a semi or smoke, but somehow karaoke nights at Southern Comfort Restaurant and Lounge feel like home. Perhaps it is the neon Tim McGraw Bud Light sign; perhaps it is the streamers that glint from overhead; perhaps it is the $3 mini pitchers of cheap beer. Or maybe it is the midnight melding of slow-dancing cowboys, motown mavens, East Atlantans and truckers with thousand-year-old souls.
Karaoke manager Dee Dee Anderson contributes to the establishment’s honky tonk décor just by sitting there. Her rasp is reminiscent of country singers gone by; her outfits involve fringe and/or tie-dye. Across from the sign-up area stands Willie, who holds up flags for sale, rotating each design at arm’s length for 30 seconds – a nomad riding a buffalo, a wolf face fading into the moon, a Native American wrestling a bear, the state of Arkansas.
The huge main room with narrow tables and chairs reminds me of square dancing at my hometown rec center and drinking only lemonade. Southern Comfort (SoCo) is equally pure despite the spirits, pitchers pumping in the air when someone picks an appropriate song. Billy, with his black mop of Seattle hair, and Dee Dee’s son Mike will pull out “Hunger Strike” upon request. Billy wouldn’t attempt Cornell’s controlled shriek if he weren’t confident he would kill, bringing 50 people to stand and yell they’re growing hungry. Mike, wearing either a black or white wife beater, knows he dominates any genre: one night “Brain Damage,” the next “Let’s Get It On” – or a flawless performance of Eminem’s “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” with who appears to be a friend, teardrop tattoos fading from one temple.
Engaging the audience is difficult, though, especially on holiday weekends when young professionals embrace the chance to stay out until 3. (Karaoke runs Sunday-Tuesday.) In epic observation of Independence Day, at least 200 patrons packed the tables, overwhelmed the bar and congested the dancefloor. A greasy white dude in carpenter pant cut-offs stood on his knees and lay down during the majority of Outkast’s “Roses,” inciting everyone to hold their noses and crouch on “poo-ooo-ooo.” Yet when a girl weakly whispered “Everything I Do, I Do It for You,” the magic on the dancefloor disintegrated. Eventually the collective intoxication counteracted the occasional performer’s inability to sing — no worries that the guy in old-school Airwalks slaughtered “The Beautiful People”; no biggie that the Englishman sounds like a dead eagle during “Freebird” — both negated because the entire room screamed along.
I probably take karaoke night too seriously, obsessing over the selection of the optimal song. My boyfriend Ryan listened to me practice for several hours on a road trip that I forced to an end in time for the Fourth of July at SoCo. Ryan cautioned me not to attempt “Jeremy.”
After a few lukewarm renditions of ’90s hits, I accepted that my gender prevents me from perfecting songs like “Nothingman” and “Black.” My staple has become the Cranberries’ “Dreams,” warmly received on Labor Day weekend with patrons’ full attention and a few who stood. Never again will I relive my moment of SoCo glory.
Yet I want to participate in karaoke night as often as possible. Something about the lone couple who dances to obscure country songs, something about the man whose monocle dangles from the brim of his hat, something about the straight edge kid named Josiah who sounds just like Otis Redding keep me coming back. A strangely natural blend of demographics occurs at Southern Comfort. People who wouldn’t otherwise mix converge at the southeast edge of 285 to offer each other a song.
A stench always lingers on the clothes I’ve worn to SoCo, but like I said, I don’t smoke. Sometimes it’s hard to throw those clothes in the washer because they smell like Tanya Tucker and neon and confetti. In a way, they smell like home.
I drove to Blockbuster this evening to return a movie but sat in the parking lot transfixed on an NPR interview with Margo Martindale. While I often keep my television on for the comfort of white noise, I rarely sit still to watch any shows and therefore am unfamiliar with her current role on Justified. And while my mother, sister and I rode silently up a suddenly macabre Interstate 75 after watching Million Dollar Baby in the theater, I wouldn’t remember Martindale’s portrayal as Hilary Swank’s self-absorbed mother. Before this evening Margo Martindale meant nothing to me. But via radio her Southern accent had me hooked.
I sprinted to the overnight return box and slammed Win Win through the slot, dashing back for a second helping of Martindale’s endearing drawl. I’ve always been physically sensitive to sound, pleasing noises sending tingles down my neck: jangling clothes hangers, twisting highlighter caps, crinkling gift wrap, creaking floorboards when my father walks down the hall. And now - the voice of a rotund 60-year-old actress from Jacksonville, Texas. No one I’ve talked to has a similar aural reaction; all I can say is it feels like the shivers many women get in their skulls during orgasm.
My insistence on remaining in the car in front of my house to finish the Margo Martindale interview has inspired me to appreciate my own Northwest Georgia twang. I only recently have received complimentary feedback on it, particularly during my vacation in Vancouver.
“Where are you FROM?” one man, B, asked me on the English Bay.
“Atlanta, Georgia.” At some point in the conversation I mentioned John Irving and apparently impressed B with both my accent and command of the English language.
“Your accent… I can’t. Get. Enough of it,” he enunciated for effect. “And you’re obviously educated. You are forming syntactically complex sentences.”
What do Vancouverites think about Georgians? That we communicate by plowing symbols into our freshly tilled gardens? A quote from Atlanta-based band Balkans in Straight, a Vancouver newspaper (kind of like Atlanta’s Creative Loafing), furthers the regional stereotype:
“The music scene in [Atlanta] is really cool. In the suburbs, though, it’s more, um, southern—like the way that you would normally think of Georgia. There are a lot of people [who] drive big trucks and hunt deer and other things.”
I don’t want to take this completely out of context, so read the article if you must » But come on, Balkans. While Confederate flag-flying Dodges admittedly bespackle the streets of the suburbs, a lot of cool intellectuals hail from OTP, too. Thank you for exacerbating the societal myopia that artists such as yourselves should be reversing, not forging!
Bartenders, store owners and bus drivers responded comparably to B on the English Bay. For once people viewed me as exotic but a quarter of the time nearly idiotic. I am confounded that a person’s accent alone determines her social standing in casual observers’ eyes, jabbing we Southerners like cockroaches into corners of what should be a long-gone mental caste system.
One high school summer I attended the Governors Honors Program, a challenging six-week educational opportunity for talented teens. (Exciting, I know. Actually, it was.) While my peers represented every cultural background imaginable, 99% of the whites had neutral metro Atlanta accents. In order to be perceived as on their level, I felt like I should tone my twang down. Even after training myself to say “dog” instead of “dawg” and “white” instead of “whhyyutte,” my drawl remained stuck like briars to my tongue. I scored a 5 on my AP Spanish exam my senior year, but the judges who evaluated my recorded response to a question noted my “Southern-Spanish accent.”
Perhaps the evaluator who listened to my monologue felt a prickle in his neck when I spoke, much like the auditory orgasm I shared with Margo Martindale in my car. Men like Southern accents on women, my Mother always has told me. Either way, if my sentences were syntactically correct, the judge couldn’t deny me a 5.
I vaguely remember my grandmother’s smell. Despite my solid mental image of her red high-top Reeboks and ability still to taste her chicken and rice, her perfume nearly brings me to tears. But I wouldn’t recognize the scent if I smelled it, not even if the bottle itself were recovered from her vanity in 1990 and wafted into my memory.
My grandmother’s aroma lingered longest on the piano, quickly disappearing from the keys. The smell would stay forever it seemed on the sheet music, stacked inside the bench. Her earthy essence had become as much a part of the pages as the grand staffs, the time signatures, the half notes — a never-ending fermata.
I jumped at my mother’s offer to enroll me in piano lessons, an opportunity to put an end to my cacophonous banging when we visited my grandfather and even more, a chance for me to preserve my cloudy connection to my grandmother as a six-year-old, weakened over the past couple years. By junior high I could play most anything in the piano bench with practice, antique sheet music that sold for 35 cents a pop – a Mary Poppins book, a Stephen Foster portfolio and my favorite, Shirley Temple’s “Animal Crackers in My Soup.”
I creaked open the bench one afternoon to find most of the music gone. I heard my mother whispering through the arched granite entryway leading to the kitchen and my grandfather’s regretful drawl. A woman from his church had asked for the sheet music, and we guess he couldn’t refuse her.
“He didn’t know,” my mother consoled me.
I started buying my own sheet music at Media Play: Guns n’ Roses’ “November Rain,” Fiona Apple’s album Tidal and “Over the Moon” from E.T. I often painfully performed Des’ree’s “Kissing You” on my keyboard at home, singing and feeling afflicted. I wonder what my parents thought down the hall when their 14-year-old daughter proclaimed, “Touch me deep, pure and true. Gift to me…forever…”
After I got my driver’s license, “practicing piano at Granddaddy’s house” became an excuse for me to drive to Wal-Mart alone to purchase laxatives in secret on the way. Since I already was in town, I’d work on memorizing some recital pieces, my addiction bolstering my sight-reading ability. The piano bench became the only place where my family could get through to me. One of my closest family friends found me there one night and tried to reason with me while I dripped salt onto the keys. Playing piano wasn’t about communing with my grandmother anymore.
I didn’t take my keyboard to college and then inherited my grandfather’s piano when he died in 2004. I never had space for it in my tiny first two apartments and now fear it would fall through my current rickety floor. After nine years of not playing, I just bought a Fender Rhodes keyboard and recovered a bundle of sheet music from my childhood closet. Ryan and I are most amused by my copy of “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail but maybe more amused by my obsession with improving on it every night.
We recently vacationed in Vancouver and stepped into one of the city’s most popular used bookstores, crammed ceiling-high with so many books I developed a headache. On the winding trail out, I noticed a few pieces of sheet music sticking out from between a couple Bob Dylan biographies. At first I was floored by a distressed Jackson Browne book with selections from his first two LPs. But then I spotted pale pink pages in plastic wrap, a Shirley Temple song album from 1935.
“LOOK,” I shook it in Ryan’s face.
“Whoa,” he froze, subjected to my story about losing my grandmother’s sheet music several times.
The book doesn’t contain “Animal Crackers in My Soup,” but “On the Good Ship Lollipop” will do. The plastic wrap crunched like fall leaves as I opened it, pressing my face to an aged staff. I inhaled the history and the notes and my grandmother. It might not be what she smelled like then but is what her scent has become to me now.
If you’re an artist you can relate to the timeless struggle to make a living and then muster the energy to work on your craft. It’s one of my favorite things to complain about. Musicians sing about it all the time; lately I’ve been obsessed with the question John Prine poses in “Angel from Montgomery” – “How the hell can a person go to work in the morning and come home in the evening and have nothing to say?”
Last night at Star Bar, A: the Color vocalist Ethan Gabriel Jack raised the issue again, coinciding with a recent twentysomething crisis of my own. Something needs to happen, I made fists in bed while trying to fall asleep at night. And then Ethan tore across stage and crooned to the choir: “I’m at the age, I need a change. I’m at the bridge to throw it all away.”
“Hell freaking yeah!” my jaw hit the dirty floor, rustling a PBR can when he added, “I’m in the way, I’ve gotta do somethin’.” (See video below.)
With a fluorescent bulb attached to his microphone, Ethan shimmies and kicks and occasionally strokes his faux hawk. You know how you can’t help but stare at interstate car accidents or cages of puppies for adoption at PetSmart, even if you don’t want to? Ethan is equally impossible not to watch.
This poses a problem, as Ethan’s bandmates kick a whole lot of ass as well. Like lead guitarist Zach Beachum, whose steady strumming interspersed with explosive mini-solos confuses my tired eyes. He’ll lean in for a minor-y Josh Homme bridge or get freaky on his frets with what appears to be little physical effort, leaving me asking, “What just happened here?”
Ethan and Zach are A: the Color’s only permanent members for now, although Joey Jones has been playing bass at most of their shows, along with Royal Thunder’s Jesse Stuber on drums. Plus a second guitarist named Dustin has emerged, his long locks constantly blowing as if his instrumentation generated wind and sent him galloping on a heavy metal unicorn. He rocks and sways a lot, and I have to say it’s hot. I caught my torso swinging along with it at Star Bar and was like Oops when I realized what I was doing.
In addition to the twentysomething crisis tune, “Red Gold” will instantly convince you that A is indeed a color and make you a fan. The hook is “Somebody touch me.” At the end of the song, Ethan stood up on his monitor, and I wondered Can I touch you now?
If you want to support sincere local musicians who appreciate their fans, bolt to the next A: the Color show. Their talent will touch you and possibly compel you to create something of your own and touch somebody else.
“Kittens! Oh my god, kittens!” I hysterically screamed through my office and toward my boss’ door one early spring afternoon.
“Kittens? Where?!” B’s question reverberated through our Web alcove.
“On campus! I have pictures!” I shouted, waving my Android in her face.
“Let’s do this,” she narrowed her eyes, applying a fresh coat of lipstick.
“What is going on down there?” another colleague shouted from the main Marketing suite.
“I can’t talk to you! We have to leave!” I bounded away.
My fellow feline-loving boss adopted her “girls” Abby and Gertie nearly a decade ago, and I saved my “son” MacGyver in ’08; neither of us is in the market to adopt another cat. What prompted our maniacal dash across the GSU campus was the prospect of taking home kitty-shaped cut-outs placed by local street artist Catlanta. The anonymous male entices his Facebook and Twitter followers with images of the cut-outs prior to their release and posts photographic clues of their whereabouts on Flickr–usually concentrated in one neighborhood like Cabbagetown, Midtown or in my case, downtown.
“The one I want looks like Ziggy Stardust,” I wheezed while we hustled to the north end of campus, referencing the red, blue and yellow star silhouettes that bedazzled one kitty. The dots outlining the stars almost set its fur in motion.
“I know what everyone on this elevator is after,” I squinted as we rode to the fifth floor of the General Classroom Building. “I’m onto them.” One undergraduate clutched her bookbag and shot me some stinkeye. Everyone else ignored my strange statement. Either way, the solid yellow Catlanta magnet that had been stuck to a set of lockers already was gone by the time we screeched to a halt in front of it, combination locks clattering while I stomped in disappointment.
B has worked at GSU for 20 years and immediately recognized most of the nooks and crannies where the felines had been nestled–a magnet attached to a water fountain in Arts and Humanities, a cut-out slipped between a stack of Signal magazines in Sparks Hall. An obscure cigarette disposal pole around the University Center, however, provided our greatest chance for success.
“Here’s the pole!” I hollered, holding up my Android to match a nearby green bench with the Flickr picture. “But where’s the Catlanta magnet?” I clomped like a toddler, banging the pole around a student attempting to take a smoke break.
“Girl, I don’t know what a Catlanta magnet is,” he puffed.
“NOOOO!” I clammered. I walked with my tail between my legs back to the office but enjoyed the jaunt across campus nonetheless.
A couple days later on the way home from work, I stampeded through the Edgewood Kroger, scouring the Sugar Cones for a long-ago pilfered pussy. I constantly refreshed Catlanta’s Facebook page on my phone in anticipation of the next set of kittens Catlanta announced would go out later that night. But at 10 p.m. I reasoned he had broken his promise and fell asleep with MacGyver purring on my chest. I awoke to discover the tabbies hit the streets just minutes after my surrender–a few blocks away from my boyfriend.
“I could’ve zipped up the block for you and grabbed it,” he offered sympathy.
“Thanks…” I quivered.
Only last week did I completely grasp my competition’s speed and ferocity. B noticed Catlanta’s Twitter page update not one minute after he alerted the world of another downtown cut-out drop, this time in and around Centennial Olympic Park. The word “Catlanta” written in lava-like purple letters adorned the grooviest kitty of all, propped inside the hand of a Coca-Cola statue. I sprinted toward the sculpture as fast as I could without ripping my pencil skirt while other young professionals swooped in from multiple directions.
“It’s gone!” one girl shouted. Appreciative of her help, I hustled toward the pond where another tabby stood huddled between two rocks.
“Back away. Back away!” I warned a dude in a suit while holding out my arms.
“I think it’s already been taken,” he sighed, skulking around the water with his neck craned.
“I’ll never get a kitty,” I sulked to B after we reconvened.
“Can I help you ladies?” a park ambassador approached us.
“I’m looking for the Catlanta magnet,” I explained, showing him one photo on my phone. I spent at least five minutes explaining the Catlanta phenomenon to the man, ruining my opportunity to come across as sane.
“I know this park really well, but…” he trailed off.
“It’s okay. I’m a loser. Bye!” I waved.
My heart broke into a million Whisker Lickins at last Friday’s Thrashers game–and not because they lost 6 to 1. Yet another cat with Pee Wee Herman-orange zig zags dancing across its body would be released during one intermission. Armed with my Android, I warned my boyfriend and his buddy that my socialization would remain minimal until my screen refreshed with the Twitter tip.
“Kitten by Georgia’s Own ATM Section 117!” I screamed a couple minutes into the first break. “Hooah!” I hurled myself over some iron bars, sustaining shin and knee bruises but no free piece of street art. A young couple paced back and forth, checking the cash dispenser and paper bags at the adjacent peanut stand.
“My roommate already has two cats,” the male revealed.
Tell that selfish bastard to give the rest of us a chance, I wanted to say.
“Really? Good for him,” I sighed with devastation.
“You sound like a psycho when you talk about this,” my boyfriend broke the truth to me.
He’s right in that Catlanta has permeated my subconscious. The other night I dreamed a kitty commented on my Catlanta-related Facebook status, and her profile morphed into a video at the base of Coit Tower with sweeping ocean views. A rat scuttled across the screen, provoking a hot hunt past my favorite San Francisco spots including Dolores Park, Washington Square Park and Hayes Valley–ending with the rodent’s death upon the cat’s merciless claws.
I’m going to back off, Catlanta, and let fate bring me to one of your (preferably large Ziggy Stardust-esque) cut-outs. After all, pets often come to their owners. MacGyver found me. It was a perfect adoption.
I often complain that I don’t get enough alone time to work on my personal projects; after all, writing requires intense solitude. At the end of last year most evenings brimmed with holiday functions and routine catch-up sessions with friends, barely leaving enough time to properly disinfect my countertops and keep a presentable toilet.
I resented the world.
I vowed to shut myself away more often in 2011, and achieve a reasonable balance between socialization and hermitization.
God swiftly responded to my ornery plea.
On Sunday snow shimmied all night long, landing on Atlanta like a big fat tutu. Freezing precipitation and gusts of arctic air solidified the once soft, gossamer layers into a three-inch shelf of ice.
“–I repeat, don’t get on the road today. Stay at home.”
“Due to the winter storm, Georgia State University is closed on Monday, January 10.”
“Yesss!” I rejoiced upon simultaneous messaging from Channel 2 Action News and my employer. Visions of productivity pirouetted in my head like a spinning Price is Right wheel, landing on the chore I always give into first: cleaning my apartment. After eradicating the floors of kitty fur, wiping down a framed photograph of my late grandfather and scrubbing the tub with Fantastik, true task-tackling could begin. I spent the majority of the afternoon reading and providing feedback on an essay about freshwater mussels by a former professor who now is my writing mentor and friend. Somewhere between learning about the Birdwing Pearlymussel’s mating strategy and the rise and fall of mussel mining in the early 20th Century, I broke out an old kickboxing video from my days as a group fitness instructor, remembering the choreography from the Group Kick spring 2007 release at a surprisingly rapid rate.
I lay contemplative in boiling bathwater, hiked through Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, winced during a 9 p.m. showing of Precious while clinging to my teddy bear. Two interactive play sessions with MacGyver and his chirping charmer occurred somewhere in there.
The glorious cycle repeated itself for two more days.
“The roads are even more treacherous today.”
“Due to the winter storm, Georgia State University is closed on Tuesday, January 11.”
“Hee-yahhh!” I leapt and landed, piercing my bedspread with a celebratory vertical elbow strike (a move I pilfered from Group Kick).
News announcers described Atlantans’ cabin fever, while some Facebook status updates carped of the same.
“Nuh-uh,” I shook my head at MacGyver. “Not me!”
I queried a couple book agents, racking up one immediate rejection, and even scissored credit card statements and receipts during Regis and Kelly. But as I obsessively blacked out my account number with a Sharpie marker on an old AMEX bill, I heard shrieking from outside. Herds of kids in puffy outerwear and bright galoshes skipped down the sidewalk, pulling sleds along the ice behind them, headed for the park for sure. I didn’t feel lonely but wished I got along well enough with the couple who lives downstairs to invite them to engage in snowplay, or that I owned the necessary equipment to revel in the winter wonderland alone. Feeling like a sissy, I shrouded myself in three jackets, a pair of Montrail shoes and a scarf, and took a Publix bag of cat doo doo that sat in the corner to the trashcan. Since I already was out there, I decided to hack the snow off my car with an ice scraper before it became impenetrable.
“Well hey there!” my next-door neighbor N stomped toward me, dressed in water-proof Marmot pants, several torso strata and electric gloves. “I’m goin’ sleddin’ in a second if you’d like to join me.” (I learned later that her husband was out of town on business and her grown daughter, stuck in Kirkwood.)
“OKAY!” I blurted. “Let me put on some warmer clothes and brush my teeth. Where’re you sleddin’?”
“I’ll be at the end of the street at the top of the hill. You’ll see me.”
N’s sled kicks. ASS. A sturdy foot panel at the nose allows for meticulous steering, while a rein made of rope helps the rider sit up straight and strong.
“Weee!” she screamed down the slope. (The park where I live touts prime ATL hillage.) We opted for a relatively secluded incline by the tennis court, since shrieking teens clogged the main drag.
“Ow,” I shuddered while watching a brave soul shoot down the distant Strip, speed stunted by a root or rock. “Ah!” I winced when he/she whirred sideways like a cartoon, sled bouncing backward.
“You go now,” N grinned after lugging the Snow Flyer back up our summit. We took turns and talked between runs, cheering for each other’s swiftness and distance. At one point I skidded all the way to the edge of a creek.
And then a group of boys usurped our path.
Watching them struggle on their apparatuses was fun, though. An Asian kid hurled downward in an oblong plastic bucket, long hair flapping like crow wings. He held out his arms for balance. The oblong buckets must be popular this year, since five of his friends exploded across the slope in the same model of different colors: cardinal red, canary yellow, parakeet green, fluttering wildly their only hope of not slamming into a tree. One of them appeared to own Oblong Bucket 2.0; black handles screwed to each side served as emergency brakes.
“My extremities are numb,” I notified N, who no longer had feeling in her fingers despite the electric gloves.
“Yeah, let’s get goin’.”
So I got a lot done during Snowmageddon (did I mention I clipped MacGyver’s toenails?), but connecting and sledding with my neighbor is my #1 takeaway. I’m thrilled to have finished a list of things I hated Life for never letting me do, but that 2-hour stretch of social interaction is what will remain frozen like Atlanta roads in my mind.
Without steady human contact, I’d have nothing to write.
Several years ago I celebrated the Fourth of July at my then asshole boyfriend M’s childhood home. Just as I bit into my sauerkraut-soaked hot dog, his best friend hee-hawed, “Hey, Bobbin. Go fix me a sandwich.”
“Go fix your own sandwich,” I muffled into the bun.
“Geez, he was only messin’ with ya,” M defended his buddy, making me look like a Debbie Downer. A few months later around Christmas M once again revealed his misogynistic penchant.
“Have you heard about the Donkey Punch?” he asked our former college classmate J, nearly choking on a candied pecan.
“No,” J giggled.
“It’s when you’re having anal sex with a chick, and right before you come you punch her in the back of the head, hurr-hurr-hurr,” M spit sugar.
“Huh-huh,” J tittered.
“What about the Screaming Seagull, hurr-hurrrr? It’s when you’re doing a broad on the beach, and then you pull out, stick your dick in the sand and put it back in ‘er. Then she screams like a seagull!”
They clapped and cackled while my stomach churned the dried cranberries from our festive spinach salad into sauce. Even M’s aunt spun snickering on a barstool. I felt betrayed.
“That’s not funny at all,” I squinted.
“Oh come on, we’re kidding,” M proceeded. “It’s like the Glass Bottom Boat. When you put a piece of Saran Wrap on your woman’s face and take a dump there.”
I frowned and considered driving back home to Atlanta, but not before suffocating M with a piece of plastic wrap and smearing cranberry sauce across it Glass Bottom Boat-style. Instead I struggled to think of a comeback.
“Oh yeah? You can’t last more than two seconds!” I howled and spanked my thighs. Everyone froze like small-town cattle; greens protruded from M’s aunt’s offended lips; J excused himself to the restroom; M gripped the kitchen knife with more than culinary purpose. While insulting the entire female gender and finding hilarity in their envisioned pain appeared socially appropriate, my truthful comment about one person proved taboo.
“That’s because it was a personal attack,” my boyfriend Ryan recently explained to me after he referenced the Donkey Punch, immediately soured by my monologue on my history with DP comments, finally bringing it full circle with the above holiday anecdote.
“You’re the most annoying raging feminist ever,” Ryan rolled his eyes.
“So it’s okay to demean all women but not okay to call out one jerk,” I huffed.
“The jokes are funny because they’re so absurd. Because that stuff would never happen,” Ryan’s roommate chimed in. (Ryan and his housemate are outstanding guys, so I forgive them for this foible.)
“Which other ones do you know?” Ryan’s eyes flashed.
“God, I don’t remember. There’s the Coffee Filter,” I muttered.
“The Coffee Filter? What’s that?”
“Supposedly it’s when a guy performs oral sex on a woman through her underwear when she’s on her period, and she’s not wearing a tampon or pad.”
“That’s not misogynistic at all. In fact, it’s considerate!” Ryan argued.
“Whatever, you’re missing the point.”
I fail to find not only humor in Pearl Necklaces, Woody Woodpeckers and Chili Dogs but also justification for calling women wet blankets for refusing to laugh. I called upon my good friend Leslie to help me draft a list of penile derision, drawing upon local Atlanta flavor with the Chomp and Stomp, going global with the Eiffel Blower and Great Wall of Blue Balls. Infusing a little maturity and history into the conversation, Leslie enlightened me on the vagina dentata. Several cultures warn men of women with toothed vaginas via folk tales in order to discourage promiscuity and rape. Plus, many sexual assault victims in South Africa wear the Rape-aXe device to prevent future attacks–a glass-laden female condom inspired by the vagina dentata myth.
The Donkey Punch’s widespread popularity infuriates and confounds me. Atlanta pie joint Jack’s Pizza & Wings hosts Adult Trivia on Thursday nights, and the final question challenges participants to craft their own sexist jokes. The most knee-slapping answer wins the round. When I found out, I swore not to see one of my favorite local bands perform there for New Year’s Eve.
But upon reflection, maybe I should attend Adult Trivia, armed with the best Donkey Punch iteration ever: vagina dentata. Misogynists will throw on scarves and look lame; beer taps will freeze; cigarettes will turn to ice. Because if I’m going to be a wet blanket, I might as well be sopping cold.