Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Slower Traffic Keep Right

In the next hour or so, I'll be heading to my folks' house for Thanksgivin'. So far this morning, I've done two loads of laundry, lugged Pigpen's travel crate toward the elevator, and decided that it will take four cases of Diet Coke to make it through the next 48 hours.

I haven't taken a road trip since last month when it took 14 hours roundtrip (the equivalent of seven Lifetime movies) to get to Ohio to see my sister Runtie. I rolled out of here before 4 a.m.--the crack of 'Kill Me Please'--and was well into West Virginia before my central nervous system sputtered to life. I spent large swaths of I-77 gnawing the heads off of Sour Patch Kids, wondering if I was the first person to ever laugh at a local bank's "Get Your Money For Nothing & Your Checks For Free" billboard, and deconstructing my new relationship using nothing but the lyrics of early Tom Waits songs. These are all reasons why I should never be left unattended.

Driving tends to make me sleepy so I have to find things to keep me entertained, like changing lanes without signaling or trying to make other drivers think I'm having a seizure. I also pay attention to license plates, keeping track of what states have passed me and which have the shittiest mottos (I'm looking at you, America's Dairyland). I also enjoy the quiet war between North Carolina and Ohio for the affections of the Wright Brothers. Ohio's prisoner-etched plates say that they were the Birthplace of Aviation because Orville and Wilbur were, um, born there but North Carolina claims to be the First in Flight because the WriBros actually launched their plane at Kitty Hawk, a place that has probably seen its share of wretched high school field trips.

Sorry, Ohio, but you lose. You may have courted Aviation but North Carolina totally banged her and built a memorial to the money shot.

OK, the dryer is dinging which means it's time to empty my ironic t-shirts into an overnight bag and merge onto the interstate. Safe travels to everyone, whether you're on the roads or in the skies.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Premature Evacuation

I just found out that this went on at the Grove in LA on Sunday night, the same Grove that was RIGHT ACROSS THE DAMN STREET from my hotel.

You'll note that the Band from TV performed, a supergroup of television stars (and Terri Hatcher) that does the occasional live gig. The other members are HUGH LAURIE, James Denton, HUGH LAURIE, House's own Jesse 'Dr. Chase' Spencer, HUGH LAURIE and some other people that I wouldn't be interested in mashing faces with.

So yeah. I could've been within my tongue's length of Hugh Effing Laurie but instead at 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time (10:30 EST) I was standing in my kitchen, eating a tray of grocery store cornbread.

I'm not kidding when I say I would've changed my flight for this. I lamented my rotten luck to my mother, which lead to this conversation:

Mom: I'm sorry, honey. That's probably the only time you'll be that close to Hugh Laurie.
Me: You mean until we start dating and eventually get married.
Mom: Um. Like I said, that's probably the only time you'll be that close to Hugh Laurie.
Mom: <Deep heavy sigh>

Confidential to Hugh Laurie: If I'd stayed, this could've been us. Obviously, you would be the donkey and I would be me.

I will be doing my annual Artificial Tree Unpacking, Lighting and Cringing Over Photo Ornaments With My 10th Grade Face on Them next Sunday night in the corner of my living room. Are you available? I'll save you some cornbread.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Upright and Locked Position

I'm just back from four days in Los Angeles and I don't remember another time when so much awesome was crammed into 96 hours. My friend TheStarterWife's wedding was incredible--she looked insanely gorgeous--and getting to hang out with Holly, SignaltoNoise, and Clare bordered on splendid. Yes, I realize how odd it is that my friends are a collection of pseudonyms and links, but whatever.

The only downside was the fact that getting across the country involves my arch nemesis, Air Travel. Somehow I fell prey to the Travelocity gnome who made a 6:45 a.m. flight sound awesome, but when my alarm went off at 3:15, the I Hate Myself fairy violently disagreed. The only upside to a predawn drive to the airport was that my eyes weren't fully open when I ingested my St. Christopher medal and purchased a TSA-approved $3 bottle of water to throw down enough Xanax to ensure that even in the event of an air disaster, I'd be twitching my leg often enough to make the rescue workers wonder if I was chasing rabbits in my sleep.

Yes, I'm terrified of flying and have to be heavily medicated before I can even consider stowing my belongings in the overhead bins. Last summer on a trip to Monterey, the staff at the [Name Redacted] Inn--which offered a quaint in-room fireplace that harbored bats and had the kind of smoke reflux that made my belongings smell like RJ Reynolds' bronchial tubes--helped themselves to my anti-anxiety meds so I spent the duration of the return flight clawing at my own face. During a layover in Minneapolis, my travel companion suggested that I have a drink to calm my nerves and obviously didn't anticipate that I'd slug so much Patron that I'd try to tongue kiss the Snoopy statue in the terminal.

This trip I didn't take any chances. I packed two bottles...and a suitcase lock.

I flew Continental, partially because they were the cheapest and partially because in my past life as a comic, I racked up enough trips in their shoddily embroidered seats to earn Silver Elite flyer status which means...nothing, really, except my inflight magazine may not have been dusted with MRSA and I get to stand on a special mat while they search for my reservation and mispronounce my name.

None of my four flights (including stops in Newark and Houston's George "Not the Shitty One, We Promise" Bush Intercontinental Airport & Armadillo Shaped Novelty Store) were full but I still was surrounded by all manner of Freakshow and have collected some of my favorites for you:

-- My seatmate on the flight to Newark was a woman rocking a double-braided hairstyle last seen on Willie Nelson and an oversized nylon tote bag full of string cheese. I get freaked out by dairy products that don't require refrigeration but she seemed to enjoy it and--based on the amount of peelable wrappers that accumulated in the seat pocket--she wasn't planning on having a bowel movement at any point during her vacation. She started reading a book with a Bible and a quill pen on the cover, so it became immediately obvious that we had nothing in common. I put my headphones on, realized I have enough Replacements music to be incorporated as a Minneapolis suburb, and went to sleep. I woke up in New Jersey with tray table creases on my face and "Kiss Me On the Bus" lodged in my head.

-- I spent the six hour trip to LA beside a couple who played 'Get to Know You' Games with each other until we were somewhere over Iowa. "So what's your middle name?" she asked as he stared intensely at the upholstery like it was a magic eye poster. "Joseph," he grunted, "Um, what's yours?" She mumbled something that sounded like "Cicada", thumbed through a few pages of one of those Vampire novels that double as Hot Topic catalogs, before asking "'s your favorite food?" I swear he said "Steak-Umms", an answer that delighted her so much that they made out until the wheels kissed the runway. After listening to them quiz each other, I couldn't figure them out. The only things they seemed to have in common were over-the-counter hair color, a fondness for leather goods, and a willingness to give/receive a fumbling-but-brief handjob beneath one of the complimentary blankets that I sincerely hope was incinerated upon our arrival. I spent an hour (the duration of the extended edition of Don't Tell a Soul) convinced that they'd committed some kind of heist and were fleeing the Jerz to start a new life in SoCal with the contents of the cash register from the House of Plants.

-- Across the aisle was an Asian teen with a demon face airbrushed on his hat who refused to turn his Zune off, even after the flight attendant nudged him. He nodded, pulled one earbud out, and promptly replaced it as she moved up the aisle collecting empty ginger ale cans. I tried to stare a hole through his skull and--if we'd had any mechanical difficulties--I would've blamed him and the Insane Clown Posse.

Getting home yesterday was a disaster from the wake up call on, when I rolled out of bed reeking of wormwood and regret thanks to the absinthe I'd had at the Edison (but I got to keep my lightbulb-shaped glass!) and only got worse when my cab got rearended on the way to the airport. The Cliff's Notes version is that I got to the Continental counter at 7:40 for my 8 a.m. flight and had to bat the fuck out of my eyelashes to the ticket rep so I could get on the plane. The phrase "I could so make out with you right now" may have been used, which probably violated several TSA regulations. I didn't check a bag so after getting my boarding pass, I had to hustle to gate C-62, burdened like a sherpa beneath the weight of all the $4.99 used CDs I bought at Amoeba music because I go across the country to stock up on the kind of out-of-print acoustic shit I could've gotten for $0.02 from Amazon sellers.

-- My seatmate was a woman wearing a catsuit who had already commandeered all three pillows and refused to get up to let me move to the middle seat because she'd swaddled herself in two blankets like baby Jesus with highlights and a blowout. As we taxied toward the runway, she loudly announced to everyone that she was going to Las Vegas, even though she was on a flight to Houston. During the flight, she repeated the same repertoire of three moves: taking her shoes on and off, frequently sponging makeup on the scarab beetle sleeping on her cheek a mole on her face, and applying a roller of perfume to her wrists. Yes, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but on an airplane the scent lingers and drifts. She also had at least nine cups of coffee and with every refill she would touch the steward's arm and say "You do make it so good" in the kind of heavy accent preferred by Carmen San Diego villains. Her entire cultivated persona reminded me of a game of charades where you were trying to make the other players guess "sexy!" but part of her definition involved chewing with her mouth open.

--The family in front of me had a toddler who was wholesomely adorable in a Family Channel sitcom-kind of way. Both parents doted on him and suggested a game where they'd pretend that the airplane was a giant roller coaster, which was cute in theory until we hit massive amounts of turbulence over Middle America and he'd throw his hands up and scream every time we kicked through a cloud. For three consecutive hours. At one point, his mom turned around and sheepishly apologized to us, staring at me because I assume I looked the most pissed. I managed to muster a smile and told her not to worry because I had headphones and enough drugs to turn Keith Richards' blood to sludge. That was apparently the wrong way to begin a relationship, because when we landed, she shielded the kid's face from me as I reached into the overhead bin to grab my backpack.

I shrugged, threw a bag on each shoulder and took off to the next gate, "My Little Problem" echoing in both ears.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Actual Conversations, Vol. 1

My friend Andrew and I went to see Quantum of Shaky Camera Work Solace the other night and--as we have a tendency to do--sat in the parking lot deconstructing, um, everything until the place was deserted save for us, a stray dog, and what was either a drifter or a Chupacabra. We also had the following conversation that I thought needed to be documented, just in case such technology becomes available.

A: If I had a time machine, I think I'd go back in time to kill Thomas Wolfe before he wrote Look Homeward, Angel. Actually, I'd schedule each trip a day earlier and chip away at his life in 24-hour increments.
Me: That's ridiculous. If I had a time machine, I'd take it back to the 8th grade so I could pass the Presidential Physical Fitness test.
A: Oh, right, that's a much better use of resources.
Me: It is. Back then I couldn't run the mile or do a pull-up, so I didn't get a laminated certificate with a replica of Ronald Reagan's signature on it. So obviously I want to go back and kick ass.
A: you'd be 11-year-old you but have the strength of 29-year-old you?
Me: Maybe we're not going to put it that way, but yeah, it would be me at 11, with my perm and pink and teal braces and also with a sub-6 minute mile.
A: Part of me wants to encourage you and part of me should remind you that you'll be depriving some other kid of their moment of glory at the parent-teacher conference.
Me: Whatever, you'll be depriving Asheville, North Carolina of a tourist attraction.
A: And I'll be depriving myself of having to read, like, 40 pages about a dining room table. I think we're even.

Monday, November 17, 2008

LOLHouse: Season 5, Episode 6

So I'm ridiculously behind on LOLHouse but am determined to catch up before Tuesday night, starting with Episode 6, the one that I've calmly subtitled "HOLY EFFING SHIT HOUSE AND CUDDY RUB TONGUES".

This week's Adventure in Misdiagnosis involved a guy who lost huge chunks of time because he'd effectively fall asleep but somehow could still drive a car, work as a product tester, and occasionally buy drugs. No shit, he sleep-scored some cocaine which led House to direct his team to procure their own blow (after breaking into the patient's house, of course). Within the first thirty minutes, Taub n' Thirteen had committed two felonies and I started to wish I'd gone to med school.

Anyway in keeping with the grand tradition of this season, the Patient of the Week (tPOW)was largely ignored in favor of other plot points involving Cuddy's uterus. He and his freaky emotionless kid were eventually diagnosed with Familial Mediterranean Fever, a conclusion that seemed to have been extracted from House's ass. Somehow he figured out that tPOW and Li'l tPOW were really of middle eastern descent but had spent the last ten years pretending to be white, just like Will Smith.

The other forty five minutes of this ep were devoted to Cuddy's quest for a baby. She meets Becca, the mom-to-be who couldn't have been more white trash if she farted cheeto dust or married Kevin Federline. Before they've even finished chatting about baby names or past drug use, Cuddy notices that Becca has the kind of creeping rash that requires her to be hospitalized against her will. After several tense ultrasound scenes, the baby has to be delivered by C-Section which means that Becca will earn fewer tips if she ever returns to dancing at the Gutterballz Strip Club N' Bowling Alley. Eventually she decides to keep the baby, leaving Cuddy with a newly painted nursery but the same echo in her womb.

Enter House who swings by her place to either console or mock her--and does a little of both--before they end up mashing faces long enough to get several camera angles. Then he leaves, perhaps spooked by the audible squeals from the entire viewing audience.

Obviously this is something that will be addressed--or tapdanced around--for the rest of the season and honestly, I'm not sure how I feel about a potential House/Cuddy pairing. The fumbling sexual tension seasoned with a dash of animosity has carried us through five seasons and I don't know whether to fear change or embrace it. What do you guys think?

I also don't know whether it's funny or creepy that I spent an entire afternoon trying to Photoshop my own face beside Hugh Laurie's open mouth.

Episode 6: "Joy"

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cocktail Reception to Follow

So my sister Runtie is newly engaged which is both awesome and terrifying because it means that my little sister is grown up: responsible, self-sufficient, and old enough to get married without appearing on the kind of TLC program that would air between Say Yes to the Dress and Reggie Gets a New Head. It also ensures that for the next year our conversations will frequently involve words like bodice and fittings and no, your dress won't have a dinosaur on it.

Realizing that she's reached this point in her life makes me even more apprehensive about my own. I probably have enough sweater coats and dog breed fridge magnets to be an honorary member of Miss Havisham's Li'l Spinster Club but, honestly, I'm just not racing to wrap myself in someone else's last name. Despite being ensnared for seven years in a now-defunct relationship, "Git Hitched" wasn't something I ever wrote on the to-do list after "Regrout Shower" and "Buy Ant Traps", and we were both fine with it, partially because he'd been married before, because we didn't need any more specialty appliances and because we both had insurance.

Our unmarriage meant that when the O-ring on our relationship blew, I could fill the back of my car with laundry baskets full of Christmas decorations and cracked CD cases without having to call the smirking attorney on the back of the phone book. It also meant I didn't get fitty percent of his stuff, which I'm cool with because I didn't need forty books about the Civil War or half of the slutpuppet he left me for.

Anyway, Runtie's big day isn't until April of 2010, right after the Groom-Elect finishes med school* and possibly purchases land in the type of gated community that sells its own merchandise. He is a great guy and they're adorable together, probably because there's a certain amount of comfort in the fact that the person you love could catheterize you.

Even though the wedding is two more Paula Deen desk planners away, our mother is fast approaching a level of excitement last seen when Jessie Spano OD'ed on caffeine pills. She's already selecting fonts for the invitation, pricing swans, and would've carved the ice sculpture if she had a place to store it. By contrast, the only thing our father is concerned about is that if Mom combusts before the big day, no one will know where the place cards go.

Runtie did name me her Maid of Hono(u)r, which--according to the ten pounds of wedding related literature I've been given to peruse**--means I'll have actual responsibilities during the planning stages, like scheduling her bachelorette party,***accidentally smudging shiny things, and giving myself a beard made of cake icing.

Despite my inability to walk in heels without looking like a wounded deer, my name has been printed in a couple of wedding programs before, including for my former roommate**** and my high school BFF. Before that, I was the peach-hued blur in the corner of several pictures from my cousin's first wedding. I was four years old and cast as the flower girl, which I didn't want to do because it wasn't a speaking part. The day before the wedding, I saw a shampoo commercial that showed animated flowers flying out of a woman's hair every time she tossed it over her shoulder. I spent the rest of the afternoon shaking my skull like a cup of Yahtzee dice but my own head never spawned plant life, probably because her hair was all one length and I had bangs. For some reason, I'd been left unsupervised long enough to get my plastic Sesame Street scissors and chop off my oppressive bangs before carefully gathering the clippings, which I hid under the rug so no one would notice.

My mother noticed. And she was pissed, as was my cousin who freaked out and insisted that I wear a garland of flowers around my head like one of the garish cherub figurines that she collected and (I'm assuming) contributed to her eventual divorce. Before the ceremony, I stared at my wreath-headed reflection and decided I had to make it clear to the wedding guests that despite my force-bloomed dome piece, I was no effing cherub. So I responded by taking two perfectly timed steps into the aisle before dumping the basket of petals and stomping to the front of the church where I stood with my arms crossed, scowling.

Despite my DIY style I never did learn how to make my flowers sprout from my scalp. I did, however, learn that ruining a wedding means your Big Wheel would be placed on a high shelf for the rest of the summer.

I haven't given up though. I have another 17 months to figure it out.

* By contrast, I'll spend the next year and a half trying to finish this Hannah Montana jigsaw puzzle and counting how many consecutive days I wear sweatpants.
** It seems that "peruse" does not mean read the first page then use the others to make paper hats for you and your dog.
*** Not that I'm bragging, but I reserved our hometown's cleanest Chuck E. Cheese.
**** At one point during the rehearsal, her retired Navy Admiral father stopped the priest to ask which side he should wear his sword on. Sadly, the bridesmaids did not get swords. I'm not even sure I was trusted with a bouquet.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday Tidbits

Here's the latest batch of thoughts that were hastily written on scraps of paper and gas station receipts. They've slowly colonized one side of the kitchen table so it's time to either post them* or use them to make a very small papier mache animal.

-- Some friends and I were out on Saturday night** and we decided that the best possible way to find out where you stand in a relationship is to casually ask your partner if you can smell their scalp. If they agree, they're obviously worth keeping for a number of reasons; if they don't, they may have problems with boundaries or trust, issues that should be discussed in loud voices while dining in a small restaurant.

-- Yesterday morning, my upstairs neighbors got into a violent argument over who left the television on all night, which meant I had premium seating for their original one act play, "NO, YOU DID". Their fight went on for a solid thirty minutes and at one point, there was a shriek followed by an impressive thud, like she either launched herself Ultimate Warrior-style off the back of the sofa or he tried to hit her with their border collie. The teevee in question could be heard the entire time.

-- I cooked dinner last night--actual meats and stuff--instead of my usual diet of foods advertised with a jingle or a possibly drug-addled cartoon character. Thanks, roasted garlic, for making it smell like I live in one of Emeril Lagasse's molars.

-- Everyone in my building was given a free month's membership to the bright shiny new gym down the street and I've intermittently been cheating on my old gym because I was curious what it would be like to work out with equipment that wasn't riddled with tetanus or that didn't have the overwhelming stench of armpit and old shellfish. Also, there's a hotdog stand between my apartment and the New Gym. It was late when I went last night and my street was dark and deserted enough for me to feel an itch of uneasiness on the walk. Rather than pick up my pace or clutch my membership card like a flimsy plastic weapon, I instead tucked the book I was carrying under my jacket, like the fact that I could read made me look like an easy target.

-- I spent an hour on the stationary bike rereading a book*** that I blew through a couple of summers ago. At the 59:59 mark, I started to turn down the corner of the page and noticed that I'd creased that corner before. For the entire walk home, I wondered if that meant that my one hour read speed is set at EXACTLY 103 pages because I feel certain that the last time I thumbed through these chapters, I was frantically pedaling a bike that was bolted to the floor. I typically do most of my reading on exercise equipment and more than once I've been at Borders debating between which of two books to buy and I've selected the one I thought would more easily balance on the display of the elliptical machine.

-- The other day, I checked out Borders' clearance bins and they were stacked with multiple copies of the last three hardback books I purchased. This means either 1) I'm an early adopter and ahead of the curve or 2) I read crap.

* I had high hopes that I'd successfully complete NaBloPoMo this November but instead I'm aiming for JMoBloPoWee--J-Money's Blog Post Week--where we'll learn if I can manage to write something for seven consecutive days. Baby steps...
** I'm not sure which aspect of that sentence should be more surprising: the fact that I have friends willing to be seen with me in public**** or that I had a Saturday night that didn't involve me sitting alone on the couch watching infomercials for hair removal products.
*** The Simple Art of Murder, a collection of Raymond Chandler stories and essays. My fondness for 1930s detective novels, elastic waistbands, and soft foods make me sometimes wonder if I'm secretly approaching eighty.
**** We went to see Gravel Truck, a Let's Active cover band that happens to feature Let's Active's original frontman and lyricist, legendary producer Mitch Easter. The band itself was an important--if sometimes overlooked--piece of pop music history and probably deserves its own post. Until then, and the incomparable Kleph has just posted his excellent interview with Mr. Easter. Also, enjoy this video which is two minutes and 50 seconds of awesome. SPOILER ALERT: There are sleeping puppies.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Rock the Vote

I woke up on Saturday morning eager to go do my civic duty, which meant throwing sticks at anyone playing Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” loud enough for me to hear through the open window of their Corolla. Then I wanted to go to my nearest polling place to tick some boxes and snag an “I voted” sticker before the Tuesday crush. After swiping my neighbor’s paper, I learned that the polls would open at 10:30 and since you’re not assigned to a particular precinct if you roll in early, I selected a location in a strip mall on the fringes of the county where directions to people’s homes involve phrases like ‘turn left at the stack of burning tires’.

Assuming that no one else would take a break from my their Saturday morning ritual of watching infomercials and softly weeping, I thought all would be cool if I pulled into the parking lot around 11 a.m. I was wrong. The line had already reached a length that required profanity to describe, so I tossed my iPod and some Nick Kent into my backpack and took my place at the end. That put me directly in front of the automatic doors of the grocery store that anchored this shopping center, so every time I impatiently shifted my weight from foot to foot, the doors opened with a whoosh and a cold blast of bleach-scented air. This kept me entertained for the first thirty minutes.

The guy standing front of me was clumsily unpacking a folding chair screenprinted with the Harris Teeter logo and wearing a sweatshirt embroidered with tiny black bears folding themselves into letters of the alphabet that spelled out 'Gatlinburg, Tennessee', a city that looks like what would happen if a Cracker Barrel came to life. He stared at me, open mouthed, as I assembled my Eff Off Starter Kit and I’d just popped both buds in when I saw his lips moving. Sighing, I removed one just so he could say “Is it hot enough for you?” It was barely 55 degrees so, no, it was not. He was going to be a treasure.

I pressed play on some remastered Elvis Costello and tried to read, periodically rotating myself like a hot dog on a gas station rotisserie, ensuring that my neck tan would look equally ridiculous from all sides. Eventually, we were all shuffling forward every fifteen minutes or so, giving someone else the chance to fuck with the grocery store. I managed to get through three consecutive paragraphs when a woman wearing a sweater swiped from Bill Cosby’s dumpster and a smile that made me crave corn niblets tapped me on the shoulder. “You’ll want to read this,” she said, shoving a pamphlet into my hands and clutching both of my paws between hers for a time period that balanced uneasily between comfortable and creepy. I took the unevenly trimmed sheet of paper as she gave me a solemn nod and a thumbs up before moving to the next person in line. The handout was about the candidates for Agricultural Commissioner.

This,” Gatlinburg said, waving his copy in the air “Is the most important race on the ticket if you ask me.” I’m pretty sure he was serious. “Yessir, if you ever been to the State Fair, you’ll want to think about who you give a vote to.” Right, since only one of these men can maintain the integrity of the Jack Daniels mirrors they give away at the balloon dart booth. I thumbed through it and, even though the word mosquito was used several times in the opening paragraph, I lost interest when it didn’t tell me which candidate would promise to bring back Whack-A-Mole.

The line shambled another four steps forward--which meant in the past hour I’d moved from the S to the I in the words Harris Teeter—when someone squeezed my shoulder. It was Niblets again, holding a Kinkos bag spilling a bigger stack of papers. “Hi, would you like a pamphlet about the—"

“Agricultural commissioner?” I asked?

She paused, giving me a look of genuine surprise. Or maybe fear. “Yes! Yes, that’s it exactly! Would you like one?”

I shook my head and she moved to Gatlinburg, who took a second handout. Before this was over, I would be given enough paper to choke The Lorax. There were handouts about judges, the attorney general, and a coupon for a free oil change from the non-partisan mechanic across the street whose hastily-drawn ad showed an oil can impaling both an elephant and a donkey. The only upside to my paper pile was that I’d have enough to start a fire if I was still in line after dark.

Eventually I moved past the Teeter to the Day Spa on the other side. The door was open far enough that I could see a whiteboard behind the register that said "Ask us about going bare DOWN THERE!” beside a cartoon bear with an expression that suggested mild retardation. Given the zip code this place operated in, I assumed that they’d wax your pubes less for the eroticism of it and more because it prevents weevils.

By the time I could see the door to the polling place--at around the two hour mark--my iPod’s batteries were dead, my distended bladder was thisclose to making me McCain in my pants, and Gatlinburg was singing “Onward Christian Soldier” loud enough to make the Day Spa close their door. I considered scrapping the entire deal and going to collect my free oil change but No, I told myself, this is too important and your voice needs to be heard.

I was rewarded for this decision by being stung by a yellowjacket.

Spraying a string of words that gave Jesus some creative surnames, I clawed at my swelling Achilles tendon and Gatlinburg—who was now wearing a hat that looked like an umbrella—turned around and said, dismissively, “Aw, that’s nothing. I’ve been stung by badder things than a little ol’ bee.” He started listing insects but I ignored him because sadly they’d all been nonfatal.

He was trying to think of the name of a particularly venomous waterbug when a tired-looking woman opened the door to the polls. “Next six, you’re in”, she said, ushering in the remaining people in front of me and Gatlinburg. I was SO INSANELY CLOSE but somehow another sitcom’s worth of time ticked by. My now-misshapen right calf looked like John Merrick’s skull and I was hungry enough to buy a slice of pizza from a guy who was selling Papa John’s out of a shopping cart. It tasted like pennies and failure. “Oh, I forgot all about the spider bites!” Gatlinburg said, attempting to drape an arm around my shoulder but missing wide right. I was about to birth my pee baby on his Crocs when the door opened. It was go time.

The room was cramped and crowded with weary volunteers who looked as overworked as Aretha Franklin’s undergarments. One of them led me to a computer and asked my name, gave me a printout to sign, and then directed me to the final line. Not only were there just six stations, but you had to wait for the Voting Valet to personally guide you to your machine and loudly explain THE HISTORY OF THE ENTIRE ELECTORAL PROCESS before he'd leave you to your ballot. I listened with all the patience I could scrap together and--finally--it was my turn.

It took me less than five minutes to select my candidates, confirm my vote, and drag my bloated leg back into the midday sun. I limped past the line, which still wrapped past the cart return of the grocery store. “I’m just not used to standing in lines like this,” a sixtysomething woman said to no one in particular. Her oversized bangles rattled against each other as she punctuated her words with either theatrical gestures or a seizure. “I’m just not sure I can make it.” She turned to see if anyone was listening and I noticed that her sweatpants said JUICY across the ass, even though DUSTY may have been more appropriate. “Sure you can,” I told her, leaning close and slipping my stack of papers into her hands. “Just read these pamphlets and you’ll be fine.”