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The Dashing Life and Exuberant Times of Brian Harrison....And Other Rare Anecdotes

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Holiday Spirits

About 2 weeks ago, I found myself strutting around the downtown section of Tallahassee, Florida. The Christmas lights streamed from the treetops like a thousand stars and lighting this entire median park system that the city garnishes with these decorations. It was night. My day of work had sunk with the sun. And I was again looking for something to get into. Every town that I find myself in, I make it a priority to explore the downtown section. You know find out just what this city is about?

It was Florida so it wasn’t too cold. By the time I spotted the 2nd homeless man, I saw something of interest, which is the main bulk of this story. I peered across this sparkling fountain and passed the two bums sitting there reading on a park bench, there in the distance…I glimpsed a building with people in it, not a restaurant. -A place with lots of gadgets in it. I thought it may have been an arcade. I walked towards the building and saw two people outside smoking. I asked them what was going on, they said it was a Canadian Mist Convention. They both had these pins on that read “Mistology”. This building was a museum. The type that had all sorts of fun science gizmos to play with inside. I glimpsed through the front glass doors of this building. The first floor had many, chairs and tables lined up, though empty. The upper floor, I could glimpse the legs of people lining up for some sort of queue.

One of the lady’s spoke up in between puffs of her cigarette, “They’re done with the convention. Though, they’re beginning to eat.”

“How much does it cost to get in?”
“I think it was like 15 dollars?”
“I can go in and pay now?”
“Yeah, probably.”

When I asked about paying, I looked in and saw that the front desk was entirely empty. I didn’t really know what I was doing. But it looked like an adventure. So I lunged for the huge front glass door, opening it silently, and then letting it shut. I was completely unnoticed by everyone. I saw this huge air contraption in front of me. If you pulled on it hard enough, it would shoot off a tennis ball whirling into the air until it fell back into the funnel like contraption. The front desk was, as I had seen it outside, completely vacant. I guess it’s sort of like a ballgame. When you it gets too late, free admission. Or that’s the way I liked to assume it was. The people upstairs were lining up with plates in their hands.
“Oh good, I’m just in time for dinner” I thought to myself as I grinned.
I casually walked up the steps and blended right in with the crowd. There was a table before me with some sort of apple cider being sampled. A lady rushed right behind the table as approached and asked me to try some of it. “Sure”. It had a pinch of a whisky taste to it. Then she mumbled something about the CEO of Canadian Mist. I naively asked who the CEO or founder was. I apparently failed to realize that the CEO probably gave this long speech in the real convention lecture downstairs, hence all the tables, chairs, and the projection screen. The lady looked at me funny, probably just thinking that I am a poor listener like most college age kids when it comes to lectures, and not some bored vagabond waltzing into their convention. She pointed at this middle-aged man behind me who was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Oh, the CEO of Canadian Mist. He was talking very intently with somebody. I turned to explore more of this upstairs museum where all these mistologists were assembling. The crowd was mostly around college age or thereafter, so I blended in naturally. Nor were many people dressed up like you would imagine. Blue jeans were frequent among the guys and so I didn’t feel out of place. The majority of people had these Mistology pins on. But a few didn’t, so again, it wasn’t like they would discover me. There were a good number of attractive ladies. But they were all in pairs or in groups of females and I was all alone. And if you know anything about social mingling, you know never, the lone stranger wolf to go up to the graceful herd of deer. They become snobbish, snotty and very aggressive. It’s better to pace your time and wait, sipping one’s drink and occasionally making eye-contact. Actually, waiting for their signals. If any. Usually, the only conversation that’s ever made is very light and trivial and even this is rare, if you are shy like me and wait for their advance.

I went over to one of the sampling stations and saw this lemon-lime concoction they were making in a drink. I’m too ignorant in such much matters to know what to tell the guy I wanted for my free samples, so I just repeated what the guy before me said. I went over to a vacant bench when this older woman who helped run this convention, said something to me about my drink. After a few swallows, I was a little more talkative than I am with strangers, and asked her about the cards she was carrying in her hands.
She said that these were the cards that we all had filled out at the beginning of the convention and that she was drawing them to see who wins. I said that I hoped that I was the next winner. She said, “Well, why don’t you pick out 3 cards.”
I did and each winner, of course, was not me. They were all females. This lady then gave me the honor of calling out the names really loud so that the winners could hear and come forward to get their gifts. Nearly every name I called out, one of these beautiful girls walked up, their high heels clacking. One of them was confused and took her prize, and we had a very simple chat, and that one opportunity to strike up a conversation was missed. I sunk back in my reserve, wondering why I don’t have a wing man. If I had a good wing man, preferably of the more outgoing type, then I wouldn’t be this corner hugger. The lady, who worked there, told me because I worked hard for her, that I should receive a prize as well. She handed me this baseball cap with Canadian Mist printed on it.

Canadian Mist was probably the first strong drink that I ever tried. I must have been about 13. A friend of mine and I where spending the night at my Dad's, and we found this bottle of Canadian Mist. The last dregs remained sloshing around at the bottom. We dared each other to take a swig. I turned the bottle upside down and felt that my entire face, nostrils, lips were on fire. I gagged and gagged, nearly coughing up my stomach. That enounter made me against drinking. And I never really desired to drink later in life. And here I was at this Canadian Mist Convention..if only it was Root Beer.

The food was being served and most everyone had gone through the line. I picked up a plate sampled the entire line of finger foods. Over to the side, other drinks were being sampled. I think I had two more. One was this whiskey in eggnog type stuff that was much too strong for my teetotaler tongue. But I bore it anyways.

The people began to disperse a bit, among the contraptions and all the science gadgets. You could play them while drinking whiskey. A noble idea, I guess. I played a few, but quickly got bored with them.
My content with the situation, and the realization that the only reason I would want to stick around for more, was the women, made me decide to leave. I wandered off into the darkness being invaded by Christmas lights.

I had gotten all free, 3 drinks, 1 plate of food, 1 baseball cap, and maybe 2 hours of restless time killed due to that little escapade. I hope everyone else ends up with a better situation at Christmas. Stay away from whiskey eggnog and girls that drink whiskey eggnog. Go to a church, instead. And there celebrate real Christmas, not the commercialized crap all over the media, malls, and shopping plazas.

Yay, Baby Jesus.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

"Fight! Fight!"

I saw him last night. And let me tell you what is meant within that small, subtle sentence. I was sitting at a restaurant telling some very detailed story that required all of my concentration powers to the people at my dinner table, when he walks by. And all of Dothan, Northview High School, that teenage wasteland flashes by. For this person was the same person that I got sent to the local slammer for because of a sort of a skirmish we had back in our glory-dipped high school days. I immediately whisper to the girl next to me, “You see that man, right there? I got in a fist fight with him back in high school.”
She was skeptical, “Nah-ahh”.
“Yes, I tell you. I was arrested because of it.” My voice becoming audible to the other two ladies for whom I just met, that evening and whom it probably wasn’t the most impressionable thing to introduce yourself as…an arrested brawler in high school. Maybe amongst guys, but amongst women, it isn’t as impressive. Our conversation was an interesting glide, ranging from Church, to Voodoo, to Russia, to authors, and right in the middle of our delightful conversation about midgets, when I’m completely side-tracked by this large apparition from my past. Words slur and I cannot tell them about my summer’s visit to this fabled midget community up in Cincinnati.
I regain focus shutting this shadow that lurked among the hallways of Northview High School out and I finish with my anecdote before my confused audience.

But now that I am alone, the shadow drifts back and I sit and contemplate this nemesis from those locker-slamming, square pizza days. His name was Kip. He was tall. He was large. He was a complete duschbag. He was one of those fellows that was always in the main crowd, but never a prime component. If you catch my drift, the in-crowd was always his sense of identity, but the in-crowd never sensed his identity. But it was high school, most crowds are like that. The crowd exists on its own. The individuals who make up the crowd haven’t really found themselves. In Alabama, the in-crowd, is composed primarily of five criteria…A) You must drive a pick-up, or a nice sedan. B) You must wear ray-bans dangling backwards from around your neck. C) You must wear either Bass Pro T shirts or Polo. D) You must be able to carry a conversation about absolutely nothing. F) You must look down on and ridicule those that don’t fit the above criteria. It’s a simple formula and you find similar versions scattered throughout the high schools of this nation where wealth abounds on the same level as ignorance.

Well, I don’t have to announce to you that, I, for one, fell through these cracks of this criteria, and could care less about falling through them. I got sick of the senseless pressure, of the faceless boredom, the cow-like conformity, the blatant stupidity, that I would carry a likewise belligerent chip on my shoulder for these greek-hungy folks. At the time I didn’t see it. But I was very much like them in my own nonconformist defiance. It was all acknowledging the social pressure. Whether baaing along like these following sheep, or going intentionally against the herd, it was all very similar. -An acknowledgement of some trivial power that set ratings on your personal value. I railed against it so proudly, probably because I was more sensitive to it than all these drones put together.

At this time, I believed that there are a few things that a man should never suffer. These are an insult, contempt, arrogance, ridicule. If asked for a fight, then fight. If shown mockery, then mock back. When standing up for one’s self make sure you stand on the toes of the one is challenging. There was no worse sin than a coward. That was a chivalric age. It meant nothing for me to jeer back. To defy to the face anybody telling me how I should dress, or talk, or act. Let no man breathe a word against you. Repay it with a sharper reproof. Fear the threat of no one. (Unless, of course, they were black…and that’s a whole different ball game than the contention between silly white boys.)

I had come to clashes many times with this group, sometimes leading to almost a fist-flinging encounter, why only the week before I was in a fistfight with one of Kip’s best friend, Scott. I fought him outside the school. The only fight I’ve ever worn a leisure suit in, and cowboy boots. And poor Scott got to know the heel of one of those cowboy boots really intimately. The fight was pretty much a draw. He got more licks in (he threw the first punch); I got the best licks in thanks to the cowboy boots. Fortunately, the fight was hidden and we didn’t get caught in our violent disagreement. If the fight had been discovered it warranted an immediate arrest. Our school had a funny procedure about school fights. If punches were thrown, then the police showed up, handcuffed the participants, and sent them downtown.

A week later, I get into another scuffle this time with Kip. The prelude to this contention occurred at lunchtime. I was sitting outside with a group of my friends. He was standing the opposite corner outside with his friends. Not too much time passed before the lurching idiot starting picking up pebbles and rocks, and generally throwing them in our area. Now, my crowd was not an athletic, testy bunch. I guess it will do the story justice by admitting that at high school I hung out with the upper academic strata. In other words, the nerds. Why I hung out with them when I couldn’t ever remember where my textbooks were, nor recall what was talked about in classes do to my frequent inclination of skipping (I think I hold the record for the most skips while still passing), is a great mystery. -Though I probably read just as much if not more of the things that I found interesting. But nevertheless, I liked these nerds.

Meanwhile, the pebbles being thrown by Kip would skip and bounce across the pavement. And I, feeling that it was a great injustice for this jerk to think that it is perfectly acceptable to throw rocks at people who are different than him. I look over at my friend Brandon Beeson who was about to be finished munching on an apple. The apple core gleamed notoriously in the crux of the moment. Perhaps, I felt like an irate Adam asking for the chance to be a god in the form of an apple in that one moment. But probably not a thought for theology was thrumming inside my head; only the vexed pulsed beat of vengeance. I asked gently if he would let me have that apple core after he was finished with it, and after the last bite, he handed it to me. And so my great trespass began with a reach for this fruit. Then I reached back and hurled it with all the gusto and righteous indignation that had been swelling in my arm ever since I entered school. I was never a star pitcher in baseball, and I had never intended a direct hit with this throw. The throwing of the apple was meant as a gesture of defiance, not as a real missile. But wouldn’t it be something that my launch was a bull’s eye. Kip was not looking when the apple core made its introduction and meaning clear by smacking his shoulder and then flying up spinning in a wild ricochet and slapping him right in the face. It is a law of physics which Newton can very well attest to, with apples, that that which hangs in weighty balance will one day fall. And with that apple falling the entire pent-up gravity of anger and annoyance had likewise dropped.

He began to rush at me in rage, and I seeing the challenge before me, rushed towards him. We met half way, chest to chest. And several pushes were instigated. But then the bell rung for lunch to be over, and we both knew that in the back of our minds that if one of us swung then it was the handcuffs and a backseat ride in a blue car. So we both stood there waiting for the other. No movement was made on either side. The lunch area began to disperse. My friends all began to go back to their classrooms in a different direction. My direction back to my class lay in the same direction that Kip and his friends lay. The halls were nearly empty, and all the while Kip with two of his buddies were taunting me, every now and then a push was made. My temper level was meeting its threshold.

One of these pushes, I tried to counter by tripping the big oaf, but Kip was taller with longer legs. So he just stepped out of the counter and then in an act of bullying, had the notion of grabbing my collar while pushing me against a wall and then holding me there. But the wall he wanted to pin me against was no wall of brick, it was made out of glass. The glass immediately shattered and in that instant both of us froze. Oh uh, we broke something. We were probably going to get into trouble. He still had a hold of my collar but was staring at me like a deer in headlights. In a split second, I knew that trouble was already coming, so why not make the best of it. So I swung the first punch landing it firmly on his jaw, though not planting it powerfully, not being at the correct angle to really deliver a powerhouse.

He let go of my collar and he next swung at me, but I saw it coming and ducked. I, then, grabbed a hold his collar and gave him 2 swift kicks in the crotch. Next, I pushed him across to the lockers on the other side of the broken window, and then jumped up (and I can’t believe I did this) and kicked him in the chest. By this time, the hall was crowded with half the school. Someone had yelled “Fight! Fight!” and the barren halls were now filled with people. One of Kip’s friends pulled me off of him. And then teachers came and we were escorted to the office. We each were separated and given a sheet of paper to write down our account of what happened. And I had a hay day writing this long elaborate story, staring me as this wronged underdog usurping these corrupt bullying powers. The police showed up, handcuffed me, read me my rights. And then gave me that ride downtown. In the back of his car, I looked down at the shirt that I was wearing, the back of which had several tears from broken glass, and I read the word “Jesus”. It was a youth group T-shirt. “Lovely,” I thought as I made my way down to the headquarters for a photo shoot and an hours stay, until my Dad came and bailed me out.

That was the fight. The account of the whole incident spread like wildfire and when it finally came back to me, it had been improved quite a bit for dramatic effect. Namely, that Kip picked me up and hurled me through the glass window. I get up bleeding from jagged pieces of glass that had cut up all my skin and then run and perform this acrobatic flying Karate kick back through the broken window and strike Kip right in the chest. He flies back and hits the lockers and falls down completely knocked out. Oh, I miss high school and all the embellishment.

So, last night, I’m sitting there. And all of this story runs by as I glance up and I see Kip. He was working at the restaurant I was at. And later, I discovered that he was the bartender on the other side of the place. He never saw me. But what’s a guy to do? I guess to be absolutely honest, I felt like going up to him and saying “Let me buy the bartender a drink and let us drink to Northview, to days gone by, to a good fight every now and then, and let us hope with the clinking of our glasses, that this time the glass doesn’t break.”

Monday, December 03, 2007

New Orleans Again

Puddles of beer cratered in cobblestone, the late November flowers wringing the fences of balconies, the ancient audience-like cracks in the buildings still getting an earful down on Royal Street, the French Quarter doesn’t die when the rest of the vines do. It doesn’t whither like the natural trees around. Nor drown like the rest of New Orleans. Why, it is the quarter that is both alive and dead. Rumors circulate about the dead actually still living, still clinging to this time-tainted set of blocks. I will not reiterate my stories from my last visit, about the vampire legends and the tales of Voodoo. But walking these streets you can easily see how an imagination can be captured and filled with a sense of the past that has never really died, but still lives. I love the hazy feel. I love the besmirched, archaic colors of Spain, France, West Africa all commingled together on American soil.

Bored one night, I ventured down Dumaine Street and found my old friend the Voodoo Priest in his museum with one of his pet pythons coiled around his neck. -A baby albino python. I walked in and after awhile he recognized me and we had a light conversation. His phone rang and he issued into this long spill with this girl who was apparently ticking him off. After he hung up on her he told me that she was a young novice Voodoo practitioner who just read a bunch of junk on the internet and claimed to be the spirit of some well-reputed Voodoo Queen in those circles. He said, “Baloney” to her over the phone and told her to read some books and that she didn’t know anything about real Voodoo. Apparently, the girl got so angry that she threatened him with a hex if he hung up on her. This didn’t faze him one bit. He calmly placed the receiver back on the phone. This Voodoo Priest, if you read my note from last summer, claimed to be one of the most powerful white voodoo priests in the world, so little girls spending two of their teen angst years in gothic garb chanting Voodoo incantations doesn’t scare him. As we parted, he invited me to come back another day where we could talk longer, but I never did.

I ended up on the far end of Bourbon Street. If you are familiar with the French Quarter at all you will realize that at the very beginning of Bourbon Street where all the liqueur seems to flow into the large Canal Street (the street with the cable cars), that this segment of the notorious Bourbon Street hits a man’s senses hard. You walk away from Canal on Bourbon and if you be a man, you must wince hard, to keep from glancing right and left at all the strip joints. First, it’s the classy gentlemen’s clubs, and then it’s the seedy stripper hideaways. Finally with face red and stumbling footsteps, you can breathe, you’ve made it to the regular bars. And these are every kind of bars you can imagine, dance bars, jazz bars, restaurant bars, karaoke bars, drunken stupor bars, but all of them classified under the term “loud bars”. Even in somber, sober November, folks are shuffling down the way, drums and brass echoing out of the doorways, the whirring cacophony of people getting trashed. You can glance upwards and catch the age and wrinkles of these buildings that are so alive and thriving. You can glimpse the balconies with a few surveyors and romances ebbing on them. These are the balconies that are the classic feature for bead-launching during Mardi Gras. Still if you walk on further down Bourbon, you get to the gay bars with their rainbow pinions flapping in the wind. But still if you continue to walk further, to where many tenants live, you get to the quiet parts of Bourbon and finally you arrive at one of my favorite bars. It is the oldest bar in the United States. -Actually, a few years older than the U.S. established in 1772. At first walking in, your eyes do a somersault trying to make its way in this very dim bar. It is probably one of the darkest bars, in the nation as well as the oldest. You catch a light glow issuing from the small candles they have lit on each tables, and each subtle flicker you may catch half the features of a face. An ancient brick fireplace sits near the door, the smell of it drags you further in. Many of the locals do their drinking and socializing. Though never at once, only in trickles. It’s called Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop named after Jean Lafitte, New Orleans’ most famous pirate. In legend, this was one of his and his crew’s hideout. Also, some believe the bar is haunted not only by ghosts, but frequented by the vampires of New Orleans. (Look back in my notes of the summer and read of these vampire legends). It’s like opening up an Anne Rice novel and letting the characters wander into a pub. This bar is thought to attract some of these nightly creatures. Or at least people who fit the bill. I guess we’ve all known those beautiful, mysterious, nocturnal people who can hypnotize strangers with their eyes and who never seem to age. I ordered a rum runner and then a hurricane while I sat at the bar, talking to this guy named Stew who used to play gigs on the piano at many jazz bars all around the city. He eventually left and I was at the bar alone. So I wandered back into the dim depths of this ancient relic of a pub and plopped down at a table. The hurricane was really doing its trick making my face as warm as that welcoming pub hearth, with the portrait of a ship sailing into the dark, dark sea sitting above it. I was lost in some sort of solitary reverie. They say that drinking brings out your natural self. What can I say? I became a blissful being of wistfulness. My humor, a sanguine melancholic, I naturally turned towards a dopey melancholic swagger. I was joyful and full of sorrows at the same time. It was an amused melancholy, a contented bittersweetness. I was pensive with a subtle smirk on my face. This lady entered and went over to the piano with all these candles alighting it; she began to play one of my favorite songs “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison…and this only increased my happy melancholy more.

-That’s when this unattractive girl comes and sits down next to me and begins talking. She had been drinking some as well. In our conversation, she tells me that she is studying and working within the film industry. I ask what kind of film. She says “porn”. I say “What?” She repeats her answer. -Telling me that she was not an actress but more into the writing and screening of it. And I knew she was fibbing me. Eventually, she admitted the truth, but that she would like to do a documentary about prostitutes. Every few seconds she would glance searchingly into my eyes as though we knew each other for years and were lovers. It was annoying. Then she stood up and fell backwards onto the floor. I stooped to help her up and she felt really embarrassed and ran off to the men’s restroom and entered before me or the piano lady could tell her she was going in the wrong room. She must’ve been in there 10 minutes, when she comes out she doesn’t say a word to me but sits down at the bar. My buzz had worn off by this time, and I now considered it safe to walk the streets and a good time to escape, so I darted out the bar door.

A few days pass and I had to go to the French Quarter for work in the broad daylight. I ate lunch there and then after calling a few of my company’s clientele, I decide to go have a drink at another bar that looked interesting. This time it was in this hidden niche on one side of St. Louis Cathedral (that old cathedral on Jackson Square in the French Quarter). It’s on the left side and situated on this corner of an alley, this small, quaint bar called the Pirates Alley Café. This is where they take the pirates theme a bit further than the previous bar, but in a creative way. This bar also attracts locals and not so much the “I’m-in-New-Orleans-so-I’m-gonna-get-plastered” crowd. It’s where people who know each other meet. I made eye contact with the bartender even before I entered, while I darted past the bar to go to a bookshop next door. I thought for sure she was Creole. She was a beautiful black girl with dread locks. I walk in and order a Coke with Rum. And addressing me as always with everyone, with her vernacular “Sweet Thing” and “Baby”, A smirk is on my face before I even start drinking. Her name was Cecilia. Yes, just like the Simon and Garfunkle song. -Another one of my favorite songs. She was not Creole, but partially Jamaican, though she spoke English with a perfect accent, being American. She reminds me of Calypso on the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, that black voodoo queen, except without the wild accent and the creepy make-up. So we talk. And other people come in everyone’s talking and she knows nearly everyone that enters. Now, by the time I’m done with my 2nd coke and rum, I’m buzzing a bit too much to feel comfortable driving. So what to do but order another…and then another….and still another. Hours fly by and the few folks that walk in are out again. Whenever she would pour me a drink, I think that I can legitimately say, that I was harboring a crush on the bartender. It wasn’t the drinks that kept me there. Oh no, I’m no lush. It was her. I was making such a great connection with this dreadlocked bartender that I didn’t want to leave. Every time, I stood up to stretch she would look at me with this look of utmost concern, “Oh, are you leaving me?” At which I would seat back down and say that I wasn’t even thinking it. Eventually though I had to go. I must have sat there 4 or 5 hours and had about the same number of drinks. She asked me if I was coming back tomorrow. I said that I had to drive back to Alabama, but I would think about it. She said please do come back.

It wasn’t much contemplation the next day to figure out that I really had to visit this Pirates Alley Café again. You know, get one more drink for my last day in New Orleans. I walk in and after a brief salutation, she says, “Coke and Rum, Brian?” I say “yes”.
For those first few minutes, I’m thinking that this is horribly awkward. Here I am delaying my trip by several hours just to visit a bartender that won’t remember my face as soon as I’m out of here. But, how only a few minutes passed and how much I was glad I came back. Even when the other people came in there I was happy to talk with them. Conversation got deeper and deeper with Cecilia. She eventually invited me to join their crew. –That is, many of the workers there as well as the locals, have these pirate meetings, where they dress up like pirates and assemble and drink and read poetry and talk like pirates. She said it’s a democratic process whose in and whose not. And that I was part of the family now, even though I don’t live in New Orleans. I tell you, I truly felt accepted. Well, 2 or 3 hours passed and I had to get on the road. I only had 2 drinks this time, so I would be more than fine. She told me to come back as soon as possible and then she gave me her email address and I gave her mine and my blog address. So there is that small chance that she is reading this and may write me back (Hint, Hint). We said our goodbyes and I walked out sure that I was smitten in another impossible romantic situation. I’ll give myself a week before it will probably wear off.