Thursday, June 11, 2009

June 12, 2009

I can't sleep, so I drive. My gas tank is nearing empty, evident in the way the meter's needle hovers so near red line. But I still drive.

(It's different when you live alone. You have no one to say goodbye to or come home to. No one to send your future coordinates to before departing.

I don't really live alone. I only pretend to. Kind of like everyone else. "I live alone." Hah!)

Catch my drift?

And I come back to this poem by Amiri Baraka, also known as LeRoi Jones. Its formal merit is debatable, but I still dig dig dig like all good Beat lovers should: with a whole lot of appreciation folded into a few tablespoons of whipped skeptical analysis.

Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones)
"Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note
(For Kellie Jones, Born 16 May 1959)"

Lately, I've become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelops me
Each time I go out to walke the dog.
Or the broad-edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for the bus...

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars,
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night,
I tiptoed up
To my daughter's room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there...

Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands.

Monday, June 8, 2009

June 8, 2009

Perhaps solitude and quiet, ukulele strumming and sleeping late are to be my grand achievements for this summer.

Monday, May 25, 2009

May 25, 2009

Toward the end of this past semester, I responded to an online advertisement listing a one-bedroom cottage near Proctor's Hall for rent. I decided to take it for the summer at around $150 per week, utilities included. I moved in on May 12th.

The threads of the shag carpet in the living room hold must and stench of cats long-dead, hit by cars and ravaged by lean mountain predators and fat flies. Its shade is a lava red and black, combined in interlocking Rorschach inkblots of one color, then the other. The pattern continues to my bedroom, where the color combination abruptly changes to avocado and Grey Poupon.

It has a bathroom with a terrific view of a wood paneled house belonging to Dr. George Poe, whose French class I took freshman year. J'ai fait un tarte aux pommes pour il et son épouse quand je me suis déplacé la petite maison.

The kitchen is very small, its dark green refrigerator and fast-heating stove on the left and a small sink and counter top on the right. Cabinets hold the year-round owner's groceries: off-brand chocolate diet shakes a la Slim Fast, Lays potato chips, five boxes of rice, flax cereal, outdated spices, and unopened jellies and jams made by Amish folk from rural Pennsylvania.

From there, a door leading out to the back porch where I keep potted herbs. Deer graze in the grass between Lake Bratton and my porch. They hardly flench when I go out to sit in chairs wearing (perpetually) their pollen coats.

The interior of the cottage itself stays very dark, even during the sunniest of days, with the blinds drawn. It is the deeply stained wood paneling, made from trees felled on the property. But I keep the windows that way to prevent cataract-afflicted eyes from spotting thick puffs of white, moderate nudity.

The elderly couple next door double as my landlords. They can't or at least pretend they can't heard my responses to simple questions or my side of daily polite conversation. "How's your manuscript coming," Mr Lotti asks as I open the driver's side door of my car. I shrug slightly and say, "Fairly slowly." He grins, back lit by noon sun. Its rays render the veined cartilage of his wide ears nearly transparent. "I'm sure it'll be a bestseller," he says. His hands decorated with liver spots resting one atop the other on the plastic handle of a brand-new spade. "I'd like a signed copy for my bookshelf!"

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

May 10, 2008

I join the hungover herd, filing into Kroger early on Mother's Day. I follow directly behind a man in a rented tux he wore to a wedding the night before. I watch his shoes shine as he walks, slightlight hesitantly, definitely hung over, toward sliding doors.

A man in a motorized scooter grabs at every Mother's Day-themed card within arms' reach. Pink roses. "Dear Mom..." Cartoon lady mice in tea-time bonnets. "Mother" in pink French Script. "I'm building a shrine," the man says, his bulbous belly stretching lintynavy polo, his curly-thin arm hair growing up around the stretchy band of his watch. Pause. "Outside my apartment."

The guy in the rented tux rounds the corner with a gallon jug of water. He places the distilled liquid on the Kroger tile, rubs his eyes to redness, and plucks a card after a brief period of discernment. The man in the scooter says, "I'm building a shrine," and adds another card to his stack. I glance at rented tux man. I slept in yesterday's clothes too.

Friday, May 8, 2009

May 8, 2009

One half of my college experience has been blown through. I've gained a year, two pounds, and tiny wrinkles at the corners of my left eye. I've lost a smidgen more of my sanity, a good many brain cells, and the desire to make a million dollars before age 25.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

May 3, 2009


Ritualistically, trudging on despite our lack of enthusiasm, my roommate and I take hesitant swigs from cans of Steel Reserve at 9:30 AM. Propping our t-shirted selves against the chilly metal of a bike rack. Looking at each other with lackluster smiles.

Hours later, during the stupor that precludes deep, substance-induced afternoon naps, I find this nugget of unintended genius on that godforsaken "social network." It is a response to a question along the lines of, "How did you think the final for Whatever Subject went?" The penultimate word is supposed to be "definitely" but came out more like "defiantly:"

"it was so hard... i defiantely failed"

Saturday, March 28, 2009

March 28, 2009

There is a real sort of lonely misery that gradually builds in the packed, smoky atmosphere of a frat house during an ear-ringing concert. The cops are outside and the marker scribble on my hand indicates that I am not an underage individual, though I am. Which is quite fine, as I will not be drinking anyway.

People I rarely ever speak to in my day-to-day movement across campus high-five me, shake my hand as they walk by. Some linger for a longer, slurry chat.

I don't know why I'm here.

Then the red light hanging from an extension cord above the makeshift stage brightens. The voice of the band's front man grows louder, climactic, as the drum-dominated beat of their current selection drives harder on. I stand in the corner and exchange a tense glance with a former friend, looking equally as rhythmless as myself, who stands at the opposite corner of the room near tone-distorting speakers. I am comforted by the fact that someone else in place is as disconnected as I am.

The dancing grows wilder. Burning cigarettes rake against flailing items of clothing. Three women from my English class grab annoyingly at my jacket, attempting to remove it, to bring me in to the gyrating ring of spaghetti-strap-top-wearers. A couple leaves no room for Jesus 20 feet away from me.

The girl in orange faux Ray Bans and pearls spills her Keystone on my shoes.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

March 23, 2009

Five beers and three hydros in:

I have no idea what time it is until I glance at the clock and realize that three hours have passed since last I wondered.

I have deduced, from what seems like hours of pondering, that all I ever want in life is one good, well-preserved photograph. One that depicts me as the absolute eptiome of contentment, of glorious youth, ample confidence, and ecstatic happiness. I want to manipulate the assumptions people are going to make about me and my life by presenting it to them with such an image. Hopefully they won't have read Susan Sontag.

I have got to stop drinking alone.

March 22, 2009

I arrive back in Sewanee, 7:11 PM. An hour and a half-long car ride with friend and fellow Courts resident John has just been spent bitterly recounting individual incidents of other people having sex in the same room as us when we were just trying to sleep in.

It's nice. Sewanee. Breeze and friends with new haircuts.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

March 12, 2009

I have never been hit on by as many men in such a short time span. Then again, I had never been to Philadelphia before this week.

Philadelphia, PA - Day 1

1. SEPTA regional rail. College Station. The train is late. I make eye contact with a man who is reading a local newspaper, the only other person waiting for the train. At Sewanee, I make eye contact with people on a regular basis. A passing eye contact+head nod in lieu of The Passing Hello. Dude One asks me what I'm reading. I tell him: Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. Dude One then asks me for my number.

2. I buy coffee from a guy in the large market downtown. I tip him because the sign on the plastic tub says "Tipping Is Sexy" in purple marker on orange construction paper. I want to be sexy. And I have change. So why the hell not? "You're not from here, are you?" Dude Two, the barista (is the male form "baristi" or "baristo?"), asks. I shake my head. "Tennessee." I pour skim milk in my boiling brew. I have just read an article on the increase of esophageal cancer due to too-hasty too-hot liquid consumption. I am now taking precautions. "What are you doing tonight?" Dude Two asks.

3. In the Philadelphia Museum of Art, my eyes are glued to Bill Viola's video piece, "Silent Mountain." I tune out the parade of teenagers visiting from some out-of-town highschool. A trio of 16 year-old girls, heavy on the eyeliner, crowd my peripheral vision. They "ooh" and "aah," shifting their personally-altered Converse All Stars every few seconds, fully aware that I am standing there trying not to judge their statements about the legitimacy of this work or that "as art" versus this work or that "as bullshit." The girlies get bored and wander off elsewhere, making notes in their cell phones about artists to research upon return from Philly. A man in his 30s in too-tight jeans approaches from my left. We both watch in silence. He sighs. I can hear the changes in his exhale as he shakes his head slowly from side to side. That kind of god-I-can't-believe-work-this-good-exists-or-at-least-I-want-you-to-think-I-think-this-piece-is-super-impressive-and-understand-whatwhy-about-it-etc.-please-be-impressed-by-my-exaggerated-interest-in-visual-art sigh+head shake. "So striking," he says, like Ebert. Or Roper. "Just extremely compelling." Best movie of the year! Two thumbs up! I nod my head. "Can you believe that something so simply done can be this..." he says, abso-fucking-lutely overwhelmed. "Viola is genius," he says, pronouncing poor Bill's last name "vy-o-la," like the flower. And then-- I shit you not-- Dude Three says: "D'you come here often?"

Philaldephia, PA - Day 2

4. Riding the train into Philly from Swarthmore. The man sitting directly behind me taps my shoulder. "Is this a local train?" he asks. I nod my head "yes." "Thanks," he says, "I just rarely take it this late." I nod again, smile cordially, and return to Rushdie. Around 20 minutes later, we both get off at the same stop. As I walk up the stairs that lead to the street, I hear quick footsteps behind me. Someone catches up and tugs the sleeve of my sweater gently. It is Dude Four. "Are you rushing off to work?" he asks. I am wearing Jenn's TAFT flip flops, a pair of jeans, and a too-big sweater. I am obviously not going to work. I tell him so, but nicely. "Well," he says, "I...just wanted to give you this." He hands me a folded piece of newspaper. I take it. He scurries off in the opposite direction. I do not open the paper until I am out on the street. Across the smiling face of a woman in an ad for online bachelor's degrees, there is pencil scribbling. It reads: "Hi! I'm Joe. I just wanted to thank you again for your help on the train. You seem like a pleasant and affable person. I wouldn't mind getting to know you a little bit better, maybe over tea some afternoon. Here is my contact information..."

5., 6., 7. After 8 hours of trekking around Philadelphia from Benjamin Franklin's old stomping grounds to Benjamin Franklin Parkway (trust me, they are fucking far away from each other), I am sweating and dehydrated and my left foot is bleeding. I decide that I need to go ahead and change for dinner at the Pyramid Club, an unfortunately pretentious establishment 52 floors above Center City. Knowing that the Club has a dress code and that I look like shit, I convince the guards at the door to give me the key to the employee bathroom in the basement so I am not intruded upon during my extensive clean-up. I splash my face with water, strip off my sweaty clothes and exchange them for The Black Dress. I paint my toenails. I doctor my bloody foot. I apply lip balm, step into high heels, and feel like a new person. I then take the elevator to floor 51 and the stairs to floor 52. I want to watch the sun set. And drink an entire pot of coffee plus a gallon of water. There are hors d'ouevres in the bar, where I choose to watch the city begin to turn in. I order a coffee and watch businessmen file out of tall office buildings, ties flinging over their shoulders, bluetooth devices in ears like little blue neon roaches. I take a few grapes and a raspberry or four from the cheese platter. An older man, Dude Five approaches the hors d'ouevres and asks me if I've tried the mini beef wellingtons. They're in the chafing dish. I reply, "No, I haven't." He smiles and makes no effort to stop his eyes from wandering up and down my form. "They're good for your figure," he says. I return to my chair and side table. I chug my first mug of coffee. More comes. The same Dude Five approaches me, this time accompanied by three friends. "I just gotta tell you," one of the other two, Dude Six, "You're givin' Bobby ovah here a heart attack, ya so goddamned byootifull." Dude Seven, who seems to be the oldest of the three and also the one named Bobby, says, "Nah, I'm so old I prob'ly would'a had one anyway, but you sure are just..." "Gorejuss," Dude Five interrupts. The three laugh among themselves. They extend their hands in turn and I shake them. "Nice ta meet ya, honey," Dude Six says. They exit.

8. and 9. I acquire yet another cup of coffee at the bar. A voice behind me says, "Don't you want Bailey's in it? Celebrate St. Patty's a little early?" I shake my head. "I like your shoes," Dude Eight's sidekick says. "They're just great." I thank him politely and sip my coffee before departing the bar for my chair by the window. Dudes Eight and Nine proceed to follow me, ice cubes clinking in the glasses they hold. Both of them, in their Sleek Young Businessmen Clothes, sit down in the chairs facing mine. I feel as if I am holding court. Moderately Hot Chick Court. We then have an entirely pointless conversation about me. They ask absolutely ludicrous questions like, "So what's The South like?" ... To make a long story short, Dude Nine ends our conversation rather abruptly by saying, "Y'know, I've always wanted to visit The South. I think I have some family down there." I nod. "It's scenic," I say, though I don't know why I do. "Tell me, Sarah," Dude Nine says, "Would I get some lovin' if I came down to The South?" I take a gulp of steaming liquid to keep myself from laughing. I singe my tastebuds. Dude Nine cocks his head and squints his left eye. "Would I?" I excuse myself. Dude Eight hands me his business card as I leave.

Temporary surge in pheromones caused by plane travel. That's what I'm chalking it up to.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

February 17, 2009

I feel like I am crazy. I am fairly certain it's either the illness or the medication.

Earlier this week, for context:

"You've got Influenza B," Anne the nurse practitioner says as she reenters my room. My lower back spasms painfully. She reaches into the deep, white pocket of her cotton coat and brings out her prescription pad. I am not given a prescription to bring to the pharmacy. No, Anne calls my prescription in. "You're highly contagious," she says and indicates that, based on my high fever, the illness is not only alive and kicking but fighting to reproduce itself in the bodies of others. She writes instructions on that prescription pad:

- Buy Delysm
- Quarantined for two days (or until fever below 99)
- Drink plenty of fluids

I drive to the pharmacy and purchase my incredibly expensive Tamiflu prescription, alongside the oft-recreationally abused Delsym syrup, a box of tissues, two liters of water, a thermometer, a small plastic jar of Vicks Vap-O-Rub, and off-brand aspirin.


An attempt at a visit to the cafeteria is absolutely unimaginable to me. My body's sweat is soaking through oversized Obama '08 t-shirt. I can barely keep my eyes open as I half-watch yet another streaming episode of the incredibly repetitive medical drama House load on my computer.

But I have not eaten anything all day. So I decide, at a reasonable dinner time (an estimated 6:30 PM) to rouse myself. I stand up. I slide a pair of Levis over my shaky legs. My breathing becomes heavy. I lie down. I fall asleep, House still loading beside me. When I awake, the episode is fully loaded. A glance at my computer's clock reveals that it is 7:45 PM. I drag myself out of bed and lift my car keys from my desk. I am fatigued. I fall back onto my bed. It is 8:30 when I wake up. I pick up my cell phone and call in an order for a personal pizza from the overrated place a short drive from my dorm. I make it to my car and can hardly believe it.

At the counter in the pizza place, I can't remember what I've ordered. The girl in the visor before me requests my last name. I give her my first and pass my credit card to her.

Outside, with my small pizza box, moonlight mingles with failing streetlight on the sidewalk. I note a strange sweet smell in the air. My heart rate quickens. I fumble for my keys. They are not in my purse, I decide, as my fingers frantically climb over mascara tube, rounded birth control packet, Bic lighter, stray bobby pin, crumpled receipt, dirty poplin wallet, Pilot pen. I pat my body. There, in my jacket pocket. My ears pound as I turn my head sharply over both shoulders alternately. I am sure something is about to appear from beyond that dark row of trees. I am sure a transient is going to emerge from beneath my parked car and slash at my ankles with a switchblade. I am sure my body will be discovered three years from now in a black trash bag, wholly decomposed save tooth and bone, by hikers marching merrily through a springtime Ravine Scene overrun with red wine-scented wildflowers.

I am sure I am the next true story the TV show CSI: Las Vegas will base a show around.

I finally get my car door open and slide quickly into the driver's seat. I instinctively lock the car doors, turn the ignition, and raise the volume of the nondescript song my stereo is playing. As I attempt to shake off the strange feelings, I travel toward the Courts parking lot. I turn left from Georgia Avenue. I see a cat bolt in front of my car. I slam on my brakes. It is not a cat, I realize, but a leaf blowing across the road. I push the accelerator and enter the parking lot. I think to myself, exhausted and confused, I can't go out anymore.

Friday, February 13, 2009

February 13, 2009


I can't stop saying it. Vagina. It's 5:15 and I am standing outside with the friends of mine I now refer to as "The Neighborhood," those who live in or around Courts or are here with enough frequency to count as residents. Passers-by note my appearance. My hair is big, my lips and nails are red, by eyes are wide. I am preparing for the evening's festivities. "Vagina," I politely greet them. One young guy stops and raises an eyebrow. "The Vagina Monologues!" I tell him, "Tonight, Guerry, 7 o'clock!"

Slightly shaky in the black dress I borrowed from one Kelly O'Mara who had purchased the same dress only days before at a trunk show, I approach a well-lit microphone and open with the 2009 Spotlight Monologue addressing femicide, specifically femicide occurring in the DRC. I want to well up as I read sobering numbers-- 300,000 women and girls have been raped and tortured during the struggle for tin and coltan, a material used in cell phones and play stations. I relay one story of a 16 year-old in Goma who was raped by 50 men. I hear the sound of my hard swallow echo throughout Guerry Auditorium.

"Femicide is the global warming of women," I hear myself saying. And I want to cry.

After my monologue, I sit in my place along the row of black-clad women, all of us with red folders in our laps. It feels good to be here. Really good.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

February 2, 2009

I stumble to the bathroom. Amy's open suitcase catches my pinky toe on the way. I am too preoccupied to feel it and pull the small bone out of socket. Hobbling now, I prop myself up at the sink and raise my head to stare down my own reflection. Even in the semi-darkness of early morning I can make out the reddish tinge of my bloodshot eyes.

I taste cheap white wine behind my molars as I walk to class 20 minutes early.

The only sign of human life apparent in the gray morning light is a fat loogie splayed over cracks in pavement I come upon as I pass through empty parking lots.

Monday, February 2, 2009

January 30, 2009

I rummage around in my purse for my driver's license and a plastic container of Tic-Tacs. (I rarely carry those commercial peppermint candies, but I had found a box in a drawer that morning and had stashed it in my plaid carry-all, all the while thinking: "for future reference.") My legs begin to shake. My abdominal muscles begin to contract and decontract as my heart beat becomes faster, seems to expand and thump the wall of my chest. David puts his hand on my leg. I try to calm myself.

I remember pulling out of the gas station. I remember seeing blue lights by the side of the road and saying, out loud as if to jinx, "That poor fucker..." No sooner had the words escaped my mouth than another set of blue lights became visible in my own rear view mirror. I checked my speedometer. 35, the speed limit or even 5 miles below it. "Is he following me?" I asked my dear companion. With a tone simultaneously delicate and firm, David replied, "I think so. You should turn right." I turned my car onto a side street and heard the whooping of flashing government automobile like warped and amplified bird call in the night.

Now, as a uniform-clad man approaches my window, I begin to whimper. "You're my designated driver," David says simply, the whites of his eyes reflecting rotating lights of the police car behind us. I lower my window. "Ma'am," the officer begins, his statements so markedly matter-of-fact in stern drawl, "D'you know why I pulled you over?" I, for the first time, answer this question truthfully: "No, sir." "Your headlights were off." I quickly switch them on and explain that I had only turned them off for the visual comfort of other patrons at a gas station. "Well, that's somethin' we look fore in drunk drivers," the cop continues. He pauses ever so briefly.

"Have you been drinkin' tonight?"

"No, sir," I respond, the taste of five Tic-Tacs lingering in my mouth. I gesture to my boyfriend. "He has been," I relay, "but he is of legal age. I'm his designated driver." The policeman looks at my license. "How old are you?" he asks me. "20."

For what seems like two hours the cop stays back in his car, my driver's license in his hairy, white hands. David's external calm is rock-solid. I try, by squeezing his hand in mine as I imagine every worst-case scenario possible, to suck some of it from him.

There is a tap at the passenger side window. The cop is back. I open the window and reach for my license. "Alright, ma'am," the officer says. I notice for the first time that he is wearing sunglasses. It is well past midnight. He gestures to David, who looks straight ahead. The police officer proceeds to say, "Now you take his man on home and let him sober up."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

January 27, 2009

I hear them trying the door. I hear futile beeping as student I.D.s swipe hopelessly against impotent entry swipers. I hear shoes against metal door frame, deep-throated groans. I am not sure where my moral responsibility lies in this matter. The residents of my dormitory ("Courts Hall" as they refer to it in university-issued marketing material) have been locked out of our most convenient points of entry for days now. The result of either a computer glitch or the hyper paranoia of a secluded campus in Tennessee facing Code Orange security status, these "swipers" allowing students dorm entry after 10:00 PM provided they possess the appropriately coded key card just don't work. The doors stay locked both day and night. Mine is the room closest to the door. The noise I hear as I sit at my desk attempting to prove the validity of certain logical mathematical arguments is unpseakably annoying. At the premier sounds of disgruntled Courts residents, I popped up from my spot and allowed them in (doors will open for exiting purposes only). But days later I sit, hardened. I ask these folks silently to read the Crayola marker text on a large piece of orange construction paper taped to the door they so feverishly battle: "USE FRONT DOOR."

I don't know what this says about my progress with that thing called peaceful coexistence.

Friday, January 16, 2009

January 16, 2009

It is silent in my room. From my ever-cracked window I hear keys jangle as someone approaches a car in the parking lot outside. I am pleased to be relieved from hearing the same girls wailing karaoke-style in the room connected to mine by air vent. They have been singing the same songs from High School Musical over and over again every day, prompting my roommate and I to stand on chairs, reach the vent with our mouths, and scream, ladylike as possible, "SHUT THE FUCK UP, MOTHERFUCKERS!" We have discovered that the air vent allowing obnoxious, suicide-inducing sound into our rooms is, in fact, one-way. No matter how offensive we become, the women continue to sing run-on lyrics: "We're all in this together / Once we know / That we are / We're all stars / And we see that / We're all in this together / And it shows / When we stand / Hand in hand / Make our dreams come true."

The note hit upon reaching "true" is held to an excruciating length, allowing for the wobble and crash of the singers' tone there at the end.

Six hours later, I go to the Delt house with my roommate and her boyfriend. The house is already smoky. It's nearing rush time and propsective pledges are milling around, trying to decide which friend group they feel like aligning their personalities with in a public, greek-lettered manner. A puppy is atop the pool table struggling to open his furry mouth wide enough to hold the 7 ball. The women and men gathered 'round egg him on: "Get it! Get it!"

Upstairs a trash can in the closet is full of what is termed "Delt punch." Though the recipe is nearly always different, the result is definitely always the same: it gets you fucked up. This version of the infamous liquid is a deep purple hue. I dip a plastic cup in. I taste cheap vodka. "And PGA," a brother tells me as I try to identify the liquor combination, "and a handle of rum."

Two hours later and I'm not even feeling the three cups of Dimetap-like liquid I have consumed. I sit on the floor in the penthouse, listening to half-drunk, coked out women joke: "Sorry for partying," elongating every syllable Valley Girl-style, "So sorry for partying." The room dissolves into wild laughter. Cigarettes ash themselves on the carpet.

Downstairs there is music. Boys and guitars and popular tunes we all know but can't recall how or when or why. A girl in a puffy yellow jacket and furry boots brings her face close to mine, here bangs falling over wide-open eyes. She grabs my hands in hers. "Don't just stand there!" she commands, "Dance!" I try to, I really do. The song seems endless as I try to force some sort of artificially enthusiastic rhythm on my limbs. Music stops for a brief period, the girl collapses on an unsuspecting guy whose lit cigarette, reacting, rakes the back of another kid's jacket. I take this as my cue.

As I descend the frozen porch steps I catch three men taking respective pisses. One right, one left, one near my car ahead. I wait for the lattermost pisser to zip his fly. I approach my car, climb in, peel out.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

January 13, 2009

I am choosing to live my life in a constant state of transition. I realize this as I open the trunk of my car to dig for oversized bottles of shampoo and conditioner. I shove my hands into piles of clothes, some folded but most just crumpled, that I threw in when I left Nashville for Sewanee. I find, during my incredible trunk odyssey, rambling notes and To Do lists, a half-full bottle of Diet Coke, and a handful of bobby pins, among other telling indicators of my own inability to commit to a situation of permanence.

There is a possibility that if I stop living out of my car I will stop trying to live in three places at the same time.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

January 8, 2009

We reek of gin and tonic. She had bought a triple at the club, dividing it messily into two to-go coffee cups in the elevator on the way down. We sip our drinks as we walk out of the elevator, waving "goodnight" to the building's security guard, stepping out into the chilly night, warding off unwanted attention from panhandlers at the corner, and walking aimlessly around downtown Nashville. "Down your drink," she says as we near another street corner. An undercover cop sits in the alleyway between an apartment building and a parking garage. I make eye contact. I blow on my gin-filled coffee cup, as if to cool its contents. I drain the cup and toss it in a nearby trashcan.

As we edge past the aging bouncer, he boasts of the crowd's large size. This is early on at Lonnie's Karaoke Bar, a smoky, seedy establishment located in the heart of Printer's Alley. A man in a too-tight western shirt, a black cowboy hat, and sunglasses stands behind the TV monitors scrolling lyrics to god-knows what god-awful country song. The "karaoke hostess" sways from side-to-side in an absolutely unenthused manner. She is showing leg to her upper thigh in her short, black button down dress. That's all that fucking matters. A blonde in a pink t-shirt tied in a knot at her lower back approached us and asks us what we'll have. As we survey the "big crowd tonight," we change our minds about Lonnie's. We decline drinks. Three men sit to the left of the karaoke stage. Two to the right. The one woman at the bar lets her cigarette ash grow long. We leave.

We continue to walk through near-empty Printer's Alley, den of debauchery, where one can buy hot dogs, beer, and cigarettes from the same fast food-style window, find a cheap or free blow job on good nights (this detail is pure speculation), smoke inside every establishment in the strip, and find:

"Nude karaoke!" she squeals, yanking my hand, I assume, northward. I follow her. I catch sight of the place's name as we slip through a low wooden door: "The Brass Stables."

The place smells like a small explosion at the Yankee Candle Company production center. Candles burn atop the podium facing the entryway. A redhead stands behind it, curling her hair with an iron plugged in beside tasteful photos of semi-nude women in their late 20's and early 30's. She greets us pleasantly, engaging in small talk as we pretend to be out-of-town visitors with tourist curiosity. Two small tables sit in the corner. One supports a baby pink guestbook with feather pen accessory. The other offers two miniature chafing dishes with contents heated by votive candles. As the woman chats and curls her hair, she muses, "It's pretty obvious that this place is woman owned and operated, huh?" I nod as I surveyed the tassels hanging from every knob of the bureau behind her, the light-colored scarves draped over feminine lamps on the mantle of a faux fireplace beside that...

My companion for the evening asks if we can take a look around. "Is there really nude karaoke?" she asks. The redhead nods. "There's nothing really going on right now," she says, "but go on in and check it out. See what you think." We thank her and head down a long corridor. As we leave the lobby, the lighting begins to shift from light pink to darker pink, a sort of strange fuchsia to a deep purple. A room full of empty tables. Full-length mirrors on every wall. Individual votive candles, lit and aromatic, on each table. The mirrors make the emptiness of the place much greater. The candlelit stillness of them all seems like a vigil. Two women sit together at the DJ booth toward the room's back. One slouches forward in a thigh-length terrycloth robe. They se us enter and glance quickly at one another. The two of us weave in an out of the tables, observing black leather chairs and handwritten notes under the glass tabletops reading, "Two drink minimum." We mov into the bar area, still able to spot the other mirrored women from eyes' edge. The one in the robe stands up, teetering dangerously on platform stilettos. She approaches the stage in the middle of the room and sheds her robe. The other woman begin to speak over a sound system, her words tumbling out so quickly I can only catch the last bit, "Give it up and don't forget, our ladies dance for your tips and your tips alone."

I try not to look. Somehow I am suddenly standing alone in this low-lit place, clutching the purse of the woman I was with as she visited the ladies' room. The formerly terrycloth-clad woman squirts Windex onto a paper towel. She, slowly and sexually, runs the dampened towel up and down the pole fixed in the center of the stage. Beneath her robe she had hidden her attire: sheer pink boyshorts revealing the curved cheeks of her buttocks and a rhinestone-encrusted bra of the same pink tint. She is slightly overweight, and might have had children in the past based on the curious distribution of fatty deposits across her abdominal area. She discards the paper towel alongside her terrycloth robe and begins to dance. She sways her pelvis dramatically, shake her breasts, runs her fingertips up the cellulite most every woman has on her thighs. I rub my eyes to stop myself from watching. When I look up I catch a mirrored image. The woman is upside-down, sliding down the pole head first with her legs wrapped awkwardly around the upper part of that Windexed brass pole. Standing on her feet again, she claps her butt cheeks together, moving them rapidly, rhythmically. I look at the bar's selection of alcohol. I look toward the ladies' room entrance, hoping for my companion's swift exit. With uncontrollable curiosity, I look up again and as I do the dancing girl spins around the pole and looks at me, her chest now bare, breasts exposed and smaller than my own.

I don't know what to think as I walk, beside my mother, away from the strip joint and through Printer's Alley and toward 4th Avenue. It was clumsy and strained, that dancer's performance. The actions were also directed, for the most part, solely at me, a seeming customer of the establishment. This is a side of sexuality I have never really seen. Heard about, but never witnessed first-hand.

After finding mom's car in the first level of a nearby parking garage, we drive around. The radio scans for appropriate background noise:
faceless preachers: " going to be a reflection of your faithfulness here."
bass-heavy rap music
Smells Like Teen Spirit
"It's free! Just call 800-289-3639. What do you have to lose?"
country duet

A pair of cheap sunglasses slide across the dashboard. The scanner stops and we are listening to "The Joker" by the Steve Miller band. Mom gropes the dark interior of the car for her cell phone. Rings on speakerphone. A gruff voice answers and said my mother's name, slowly and strangely. She turns the car stereo volume up. "I'm a picker, I'm a grinner, I'm a lover, and I'm a sinner," Steve Miller sings. "Remember this?" mom yells over the music. "Yep," Gus, her high school sweetheart and ex-husband replies. The sunglasses slide across the dashboard again as she makes another hard turn. She turns the music down. "You know," she says, dropping her voice low-like, "you used to be one sexy motherfucker." Gus clears his throat. "T'ain't like that no more," he says simply.

My eyes blur at the lights on Nolensville Pike: taillights, used car lot lights, signage at the Food Lion, late-night taco stands, street lights. The song ends. Gus' third wife gets home. Cops pull a guy over to the left. I spot a family gathering on wind-down through the picture window of a ranch-style brick home. There is nothing on TV.