Monday, August 31, 2009

146.59 Miles

On Friday, I'll be packing my three favorite R.E.M. t-shirts and tearing up I-77 toward my hometown to visit my wonderful parents and their nasty little dog. Not only will I get to sleep under the watchful eye of the Springsteen poster I tacked up one seventh grade summer and eat things that weren't dumped out of dented cans, I'll also get to see my sister, Runtie, for the first time in forever.

Until last August, we just lived four or five Cracker Barrels away from each other and hung out at least once a month, gorging ourselves on pepperoni-encrusted mistakes and watching direct-to-DVD horror movies, only peeling ourselves off the sofa long enough to get another Diet Coke or shoot fireworks off my balcony. Then--almost exactly a year ago--she moved to the midwest and now going to see her requires boarding and deplaning more than one regional jet or spending half a day on various unspectacular interstates. Either way, it's a supersized bowl of Suck.

Runtie and I couldn't be more different but we also couldn't be closer. We share a love for animals dressed as humans, Oreo Cakesters and Christopher Meloni's one facial expression, but that's where the similarities end. She is a nurse who is engaged to a doctor. My romantic prospects are limited to my building's recently-paroled maintenance man who told me that I could be a real catch if I grew some tits.1

Runtie and Dr. Fiancé recently bought a house and will be closing on it later this week. Yesterday I purchased two boxes of Food Lion brand fish sticks. She graduated from nursing school with honors and has held a steady job ever since. I'm a semi-employed blogger whose recent accomplishments are limited to illegally downloading the first season of Family Ties and being able to recall Roger Clemens' 1986 ERA in conversation.2

Runtie is Gallant. I am Goofus.

We're both descending on the only real home address we've ever had to celebrate our mother's birthday. Runtie will no doubt present her with a thoughtful, quite possibly handcrafted gift that reflects what an unbelievable mom she has been, one that appropriately thanks her for subletting her uterus to the two of us for a combined 18 months. I'll be giving her either a framed copy of my latest dental X-rays or a somewhat unevenly wrapped box of Sour Patch Kids, although I will take the time to remove the shitty flavors.3

The last time our entire family got together, Bea Arthur died.4 As the same three clips from Maude aired on the evening news, Runtie and I stood in the kitchen passing a bowl of brownie batter across the counter to each other, scooping out oversized spoonfuls and shoving them into our faces.

Runtie was retelling a story from the previous week, something about making crucial adjustments to a patient's medications. "And then I had to consult with a phlebotomist," she said, "To ensure that the levels would be acceptable."

"Uh, yeah, I have no idea what that is," I told her, licking a glob of chocolate off my forearm. "But there are probably terms from my job that you wouldn't understand."

"Really?" she asked. "Like what?"

"Like sweatpants. And poverty."

Four more days. Sha la la la.

1 I also had a brief makeout sesh with a picture of Hugh Laurie I cut out of Parade magazine.
2 2.46.
3 Orange and yellow, obviously.
4 I'm pretty sure the two events are unrelated but I'd appreciate if one of you would keep an eye on Rue McClanahan until Sunday evening.
__________
Oh! Here's a thing! I recently had the opportunity to chat with singer Justin Townes Earle, the 27 year old son of Nashville legend Steve Earle. Our conversation was wide ranging, covering everything from his somewhat unexpected influences to his [excellent] new album to what makes a good drug dealer.

Part 1 and Part 2 of the interview have been posted at my other hangout, BitchBuzz, a site that you should probably be reading, like, all the time.

Photo Credit: Joshua Black Wilkins

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Terminated

I spent the first part of the week making my way through a borrowed copy of Joshua Ferris' And Then We Came To The End, a novel that was in my opinion over-hyped and under-hilarious. My reasons for disliking the book are less important than the reason it was recommended to me in the first place. Basically the plot revolves around working at an ad agency or--more accurately--being fired from an ad agency, an item which was crossed off my life's To-Do list several summers ago.

The agency was the second of three office jobs that ended with me beings escorted out of the building, my belongings hastily stacked in cardboard boxes or bins borrowed from the mail room. Twice I was given the chance to lovingly pack my own Starting Lineup figurines and Happy Meal toys, carefully wrapping them in pages torn from the Employee Handbook. The third and final time everything was packed for me, arriving in a dented box UPS left on my doorstep, my Kurt Warner poster creased beneath the weight of an engraved nameplate I'd never need again.

Everything I've ever had to fill out a W-2 form for has ended with my termination, along with an increasingly long list of people I can't use as references. Monday, in fact, marked the one year anniversary of my sacking from The Foot Bucket, the last 'real' job I had.

This time last year, I walked into work wearing a freshly Febreezed Mizuno running tee tucked into a pair of high waisted khakis, the door jingling behind me, tattling that I was three minutes late. I clocked in on the computer and finished shoving hangers through the necks of the morning's shipment of reflective windbreakers. After ten minutes of hanging jackets on the wall and revisiting every bad decision I'd ever made, I headed toward the dressing room to empty them of the wadded pile of Tempo Track shorts in a range of sizes that suggested that the person who tried them on was contemplating an eating disorder. In either direction.

One of the managers knocked on the white wooden doors causing them to swing inward, saloon style, and clip me on the shoulder. "We need to talk," she said, with a pained expression that made her look like she'd inserted her Super Absorbent in the wrong orifice. She took the shorts out of my arms and placed them on the bench attached to the wall. "Leave these. We're going out back."

As she led the way to the Emergency Exit, I quickly learned that "out back" didn't mean Bloomin' Onions and Unyielding Diarrhea. It also didn't mean the Manager's Office, a tiny windowless room that always smelled like a nauseating combo of Gatorade powder and damp socks.

Instead she held the door open, teaching me that the "ALARM WILL SOUND" sign was just for show, much like the fake cameras in the corner or the unneeded underwire loitering around the bottom of her bra. Her cup? Half empty. Anyway, she led me outside--behind the dumpsters--where I immediately assumed I was going to be killed.

I hoped she'd make it quick, mainly because the store shared a massive trash bin with a hair salon. The smell of chemical treatments and perm solution mingled with that of leftover pepperoni currently baking in a stack of empty Papa John's boxes from the previous night's high school Kross Kountry Kickoff or whatever dreadful name was assigned to an evening of sullen kids picking at their facial eruptions as they sighed deeply and shoved last year's mud-encrusted spikes in your face. Lather, rinse, repeat until you stomp off to the stockroom and seriously consider making a noose out of a pair of shoelaces that were rejected for being a rival school's color.

A fly jumped from a slab of grease-stained cardboard to my left forearm. I brushed it away, stealing a glance at my watch and realizing if this went quickly, I'd be home in time for a solid hour of Mama's Family.

"This isn't working," she said, crossing her arms and staring at the fluorescent 50% OFF sticker I'd managed to affix to my sternum. "As of right now, you're considered to be terminated."

"Does that make you the Terminator," I asked because it's not like things could possibly get worse.

"Yes," she said, unsmiling. "I am the Terminator."

"COME WITH ME IF YOU WANT TO LIVE" I replied in my best Schwarzennaccent.

"See? You repeatedly made this decision easy for us. Perhaps you'll take your next endeavor more seriously."

Seriously?

I had to seriously swallow an ill-advised snicker, considering I was standing outside in the unseasonable September heat wearing an oversized foot-shaped button that said "I ♥ Sole Music" and being reprimanded by a grown woman who wears a visor to work.

"Well. That's it. Give me your nametag. And your Sole Music button."

"Aw, my nametag?"

"That's what I said. Give me the nametag."

And that became my favorite moment of perhaps the entire plantar wart-encrusted summer. There weren't any belongings for me to box up. I didn't have a locker or any personal items, other than a can of Lysol I contributed to the employee bathroom and three single-serving packages of Cheez-Its. The nametag, my Sole Music and the sweat-wicking t-shirt I was wearing were all I had to show for six months of misery.

She snapped her fingers and pointed at my boob. "NAMETAG." I fumbled with the pinback, wondering what would happen if I just made a break for the car, keeping their logo pinned to my chest in an effort to go rogue. I'd work as a Street Fitter, crouched on the corner of Seventh and Trade streets hissing at pedestrians. "Hey! HEY, OVERPRONATOR," I'd shout to the man who needed a gait analysis and a pair of custom orthotics. "Do you know about plantar fasciitis? BECAUSE YOU WILL."

I removied both buttons from my tee and placed them in her outstretched palm.

"Can I keep the shirt?" I asked, wide-eyed, innocent, and overwhelmed by the bottles of 40 Volume Bleach offgassing two feet to my right.

"Yes. Consider that our gift to you"

I walked to the car, confident that I'd never shove an oversized foot into an undersized shoe, never stare at another set of split toenails, never have the manager tell me how stupid I was for mismatching a pair of socks for the try-on bins. "The real gift," I thought to myself as I rolled down the window "The real gift was letting me go."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wocka Wocka

So tomorrow night--Thursday night--I'll be telling jokes (pictured, above left) at The Garage in downtown Winston-Salem (kind-of pictured, above right). The show starts at 9:30, which means you should be dangerously close to soiling the upholstery by 9:34. This is the second straight month I've stomped around their stage and I'm coming armed with some new material, some old favorites, and some in-betweens that I've pulled from my various notebooks of Funny Shit.

It's been four weeks since I've been onstage and it was, like, nineteen James Patterson novels before that (which translates to roughly three months) so I've spent this entire calendar page missing it. As much as I dig living in everyone's computer, it's a brazillion times better to get the immediate feedback that comes from a room full of people laughing at you. On purpose, as opposed to from across the aisle at Target when you inadvertently knock over a rack of personal lubricant.

There was a pretty stellar turnout in July, possibly because it's free--did I mention it's free?--and I stuck around after the last comic to suck back a pair of vodka and cranberries. The V & C is my beverage of choice because it's such a little multitasker. While it's corroding your liver, it's simultaneously strengthening the various pieces of your urinary tract so you're totally breaking even on the health front. When it comes to drinkin', though, I'm more than a lightweight, to the point where too much Listerine almost guarantees I'll be dry-humping strangers in the elevator. Or the elevator itself.

That night I consumed eight bucks worth of Aristocrat vodka, which left me stumbling through the club like a recently tranquilized animal. I lurched and pawed my way toward the bathroom, pausing only to make a pass at a dish towel that was crumpled--SEDUCTIVELY CRUMPLED--on the side of the bar.

It was late enough in the evening that the lights had been turned out in the back half of the room--including the bathrooms--a discovery I didn't make until I was standing in the pitch black single seater wondering whether it was appropriate to tongue kiss an ash tray on the first date. My choices were to either to try to Frank Slade my way to the toilet or to step back out and admit that I'd spent five minutes in the dark trying to flip the switch on the August concert calendar.

My brain dredged up some Discovery Channel-ish memory about bats and sonar so I let out several high pitched screeches in the hopes they'd richochet off the porcelain but that just made someone softly knock to ask if I was OK.

A pair of Vampire Weekend songs passed before I felt the smooth surface of the toilet against the back of my bare calves, so I took care of my business and shuffled back into the bar. I politely held the door for the next woman in line, while launching several silent prayers that I hadn't accidentally defiled the sink. "The lights are out," she said to the empty room, before casually flipping a switch on the opposite wall.

"Yeah, I know," I said, fumbling for an explanation. "I just don't like to see myself naked."

"You take your clothes off when you go to the bathroom?", she asked, giving me a confused expression like I'd just told her that I save all my scabs or start small fires or really dig Steely Dan.

"Um. Not all the time, no," I replied. She immediately pulled the door closed behind her, shaking her head and muttering to herself. Then I heard the lock snap into place.

What's the point of this story? I have no idea. But if you come to the gig tomorrow night--and you know you want to--just remember where the light switch is. And if you see a pale pink beverage in my hand, you should probably just clinch your kidneys together until you get home.

Monday, August 24, 2009

PBR Promenade

So this weekend was somewhat of a rarity in that I changed out of my sweat-wicking fabrics and actually had Things to Do on both Friday and Saturday nights, things that didn't involve licking Cool Ranch seasonings from my fingernails, ThermaCare HeatWraps, and watching Dateline reruns about trophy wives who'd been tossed into one of the lesser oceans.

By Things to Do, I mean back-to-back concerts at my favorite un-airconditioned local music venue, a pair of evenings full of excesses that left my ears ringing and my liver wracked with sobs. I'm far from having a social conscience--or any conscience at all, really, since my baby one fell out and my permanent one has yet to take its place--but I do think that two of the most important things you can do in your own ZIP code are drinking your coffee from an indie shop and supporting your local music scene. I've adopted one particular bar as my fave, the kind of place that decorates with bowling pins and rusted signs, has floors that can easily be hosed down at closing time, and a variety of vinyl-covered seating options that will keep a piece of your thigh skin as a souvenir if you stand up too quickly.

Saturday night's show was by American Aquarium, a six-piece band from Raleigh who serves up slabs of alt-country with a side of Springsteen and garnished lightly with Ryan Adams. The lead singer, BJ Barham, crams a lot of attitude into his skinny jeans, telling stories about strip clubs in between songs about broken hearts and empty bottles. "If y'all wanna keep sendin' us shots, that would be great," he said, with an accent thick enough to sop up with a biscuit. "Cause it feels good in our tummies."

The place was overstuffed with an interesting all-ages crowd who ranged from Wet Seal to Withered Cougar. There were popped collars and madras shorts. There were Skoal rings and unfiltered Marlboros. And they were all shouting out the choruses to songs like "I Hope He Breaks Your Heart"--formerly known as "The Whore Song"--and "Ain't Going to the Bar Tonight".

Writhing in front of the stage was a pack of newly-minted college freshman who had swapped their free credit card t-shirts for spaghetti strap tanks. They all had identical asymmetrical haircuts and identical dance moves as they bounced and gyrated with their arms fully extended over their heads, a gesture that made the more coordinated look like they'd recently watched the Pole Katz Stripper Skillz DVD while the less-talented ones looked like they were trying to block a free throw.

Collectively they weighed less than my ottoman but were more than intimidating, what with their unlined faces and unwasted potential. "Whatever," I told myself while tearing a napkin into pieces of poorly absorbent confetti. "At least I'm old enough to rent a car. A CAR I COULD DRIVE TO A PARTY WHERE I WOULD ABSOLUTELY BE DANCING IF I'D WORN A PAIR OF SENSIBLE SHOES."

On the other side of the jumble of plastic furniture were the over-forties, all animal print skirts and their best attempts at Looking Sexy. They rocked identical expressions that featured raised eyebrows and sucked-in cheeks as they tried for Seductive but were closer to Quietly Choking on a Cough Drop.

One particularly intoxicated woman wedged herself beside me at the bar. She had dark roots and faded tattoos and introduced herself by asking if I thought she looked good for forty-six. I wanted to ask if she meant forty-six human years but realized she probably hadn't gotten those forearm scars by raising orchids and taking harp lessons. I nodded vigorously while trying to avoid both eye contact and any sudden movements. Satisfied, she leaned hard into the bar, shouting her order for another drink which she needed almost as much as she needed to be wearing a pale pink tube top.

"Gimmanothershotakeela" she slurred toward the bartender, who must've bought the Rosetta Stone program for the language of the Overserved.

"Coming up," she said, reaching for a bottle below the counter. "You're not driving tonight are you?"

"No, course not," Tube Top said, shaking her tangle of split ends. "Iss mah fortieth birfday."

She upended the shot glass and slammed it down, before wiping the back of her hand across her mouth. Turning her attention to the dude parked on the stool beside me, she scraped four press-on nails across his Levis and shouted "Donchu think I'm lookin good for thirdynine?"

She Benjamin Buttoned her way down the bar--somehow scoring another shot in the process--so I'm not sure how old she was when she fell in the middle of the floor, her skirt bunched around her Spanxx and her face resting against a table leg. She raised her head tentatively. "M'allright," she muttered to an empty chair, which was good news since no one moved to help her up. She made several false starts at standing, like Bambi on a frozen pond if Bambi had spent his formative years drinking Boone's Farm and flashing his tits at volunteer firemen.

Abouth the time she staggered toward the back of the room, Barham excused the band for a "piss break" as he delicately put it, and he strummed through a few acoustic songs. That was the cue for a prom to break out, as strangers paired off into couples and awkwardly swayed in front of the stage.

"These guys are great, right?" said a voice beside me. I assumed someone else had snagged the still-warm seat after its previous owner grabbed a woman in a peasant skirt, headed to the impromptu dance floor, and was currently spelunking her molars with his tongue.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to see a twentysomething dude with massive biceps and a vacant expression, an Abercrombie ad in distressed denim. He flashed his Whitestrippiest smile and repeated "These guys are great, right?"

Wait. Wait. Wait.

I'm not very good at recognizing these kinds of things, but the way he rested his hand on my right scapula made me think he might have been hitting on me. And the way he swayed unsteadily toward the rear wall made me think he was drunk enough to try the same line on a river otter.

"Yeah, they're spectacular," I said. "I saw 'em at the Cat's Cradle a couple of weeks ago."

We swapped a few more sentences before he closed his eyes--as if to compose himself--leaned in toward my ear and whispered "Aren't these guys great? These guys are great, right?"

It was like talking to an ice bucket, although an ice bucket I probably would've made out with. "Yeah," I sighed. "They've got a great album."

Album.

He jerked his head away, surprised either by the unfamiliar term or startled by a sudden realization that I must be borderline elderly, that beneath my t-shirt was a set of brittle bones and irregular bowels.

Album.

I may as well have spewed another set of things he wouldn't understand, like "daguerreotype" or "laser disc" or "literacy".

He twisted one of the gelled peaks on his head, patted my knee and said "You have a good night, sweetheart", probably in the same way he tucks his grandmother in before rolling her back toward her oxygen tank and Poise pads.

And that's when I stopped having fun and started feeling old, with a capital O, I am the morning DJ at W-O-L-D levels of Old. I was a solid two summer Olympics older than the band and the dancing freshmen weren't helping, what with their invisible pores and unfinished Cosmopolitans.

I was closing my tab when two of them flounced toward the bar. "I need a dah-rink," one of them pouted, dropping an oversized purse on the stool.

"That's my cue," I thought, stuffing my copy of the receipt into my pocket. Then I headed for the dah-oor.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I Know This Much Is True

Some of life's most important lessons are also the most painful to learn. Experiencing these truths for yourself can leave you mentally spent and emotionally battered but each shot to the heart--to spill a bit of Bon Jovi on you--is more than important. Some of the things I'd file in this category include only love can break your heart and only music can save your soul and only six pieces of popcorn is enough to turn your dog's colon inside out.

It's not entirely his fault, but if Orville Redenbacher were still alive, I would've dragged him into my closet at 3:17 a.m., handed him a roll of paper towels and told him to start scrubbing. One handful. One handful of 100 Calorie Kettle Corn was enough to ensure that this Monday would begin with a raging internal debate over whether it would be easier to scrub the carpet or just to pack up my furniture and move.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Four Things

1) Sometimes when I meet people, I’m so insanely nervous that I can’t do anything except a) pant uncontrollably or b) talk incessantly about myself. Unfortunately once it starts—the schmuck-like jabbering— I can’t stop until I'm driving home, wiping an errant smudge of barbeque sauce from my cheek and thinking about all of the questions I wished I’d asked or things I wished we’d covered instead of starting another sentence with “I”. This item is also filed under “Reasons I Rarely Have Second Dates”.

2) Sometimes I’m a chronic over-sharer. This is probably a direct result of spending the past four years putting my entire life on the internet, and while hopefully it’s never as unsettling as being introduced to a friend’s mother just in time for her to fill me in on her uterine fibroids, it’s probably still a bit jarring to the uninitiated (See: Above) who follow normal mores of communication. I have zero secrets, yo.

3) Sometimes when I can’t sleep I catalog my flaws.

4a) There is no four.

4b) Yes there is, and it's a Life Lesson for you. When your neighbor tells you that she and her boyfriend of twenty five years ("TWENTY FIVE YEARS," she repeats for emphasis) have just gotten married, it's not a good idea to respond "Congratulations. Does that void his warranty?"

Just...trust me.

You also may want to avoid the elevator and the building's common areas for a while.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Another Boring Romantic, That's Me

Well hello, internet. Remember me, the one who used to rummage through your desk drawers while you were at lunch and accidentally-on-purpose brush against you when reaching for the DOOR CLOSE button in the elevator? I'm back from a busy couple of weeks of...not much, really, save for fighting with my own brain. I know there are things I need to be doing--websites to pitch, unsolicited emails to send--but for some reason, my frontal lobe would much rather spend the morning organizing the silverware drawer and wondering whether to be proud or ashamed of my more-than-impressive spork collection.

I've for real been trying to find more work and my emails are most often ignored, although I do get the occasional "you're good with words but we're just not looking right now" response, which is the equivalent of when I'd ask someone to the prom and they'd tell me that I had a really fantastic personality and more novelty t-shirts than they'd ever seen (I was partial to a Bubba Gump Shrimp tee at the time) but they didn't like me in that way. "That way", of course, served as a euphemism for "any way that might involve actually touching you". So that's where we are. Several websites, all of the local alt-weeklies, and a couple of other stray outlets for all my typed thoughts don't want to slow dance with me.

Anyway.

I have gone to a couple of concerts and managed to skip town for the weekend, despite the best efforts of the airlines. I rolled into LaGuardia on Saturday morning just in time for Crazy Bag Full of Batteries Guy and--courtesy of the subsequent terminal closings--I spent several hours sitting crosslegged on the stained carpet at the gate, reading People magazine over a stranger's shoulder and hoping she wouldn't notice all the powdered donut dust I'd rained onto her shirtsleeve. The flights back on Sunday weren't any better. Thanks to an endless storm system that left the local radar as red and angry as my complexion, I had flights delayed, canceled, re-delayed, then ended up on a completely different set of planes than I was originally scheduled for. It essentially turned into an airport key party, where you'd just go home with whatever flight you pulled out of the bowl.

On the music review front, I attended last week's Willie Nelson/John Mellencamp/Bob Dylan show in Durham, North Carolina and wrote a piece for BitchBuzz about it--one that I'm 'specially proud of--which you can read if you clicky here. A couple of days later, it turned up on John Mellencamp's official website, which is one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me, ever, because I've been a massive Mellencamp fan (SHUT UP) since I spent my after-school detentions writing Dr. and Mrs. John Cougar Mellencamp on my Trapper Keepers.


Look at that. I wish I could let my fourth grade self know that things like this would happen. I also wish I'd never bought that Bubba Gump shirt. Or any clothing, really, that was ever on sale at Spencer Gifts.

So. How have you guys been?