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

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Revenge in the Pews

Just this past Sunday afternoon, I got a call from an old friend of mine. He invited me to go out to his church that evening. The both of us had hung out a few nights earlier and it was set then. But he was calling to tell me directions to this church way out in the boondocks of northern Alabama, when jokingly he thought he’d be smart and say something along the lines of, “Seeing how I grew up here and how my dad’s the preacher and I’ve preached here myself…if you come dressed up like you just hopped off a bus, don’t sit beside me when you come in.” Now this was a complete joke, if you knew this character you would completely understand. But that still doesn’t detract the old belief that behind every joke there’s a truth. So it is only natural for me to assume that when he called me the thought ran through his mind of me arriving in torn blue jeans and a ratty tight T-shirt that has the face of Grimace on it and he actually being embarrassed at this ragged stranger waltzing in and claiming to being buddies with the preacher’s son of the congregation who is a very polished preacher himself. I was not annoyed about his apprehension of me coming dressed as a beggar. Maybe I warranted that. But I was a little annoyed that anybody in a church should be bothered that someone shows up underdressed. “I’ll show him.” I thought smirking to myself.

My drive lay stretching on I-20 to get to this Ohatchee Church of Christ in this little, bitty town an hour or so from Birmingham, where I was at that day for my church. The place where I live is midway between Ohatchee and Birmingham. His little speech made me stop at my place for a little preparation. I threw on these old checkered pair of green and white pants. And then one of my prized ruffled shirts…Crimson colored. And to top it all off, I slapped on my forehead, a huge, oversized brown cowboy hat. Now, I was going to saunter inside that church very late, right in the middle of the sermon…I hoped. And then ogle the crowd very strangely and walk very strangely also and plop right down beside my friend and throw my arm around him. That was the plan. And he will wish he never made that comment.

We like to refer to this friend of mine as B.Diddy. B. Diddy was the preacher at my home church in Dothan years ago. He is 33 years old. He was a very dynamic preacher some 3 or 4 years ago. Though, he has left the pulpit. Perhaps becoming burned out? But this I really couldn’t tell you. He belongs to the old school world of preaching maybe not necessarily fire and brimstone but still what would be seen today termed as solid gold proclaiming back when preachers and theologians filled white tents and filled boring commentaries full of very clear, forthright formulas of how to know all one needs to know about God. B. Diddy at a young age inherited this tradition from his father and other preachers of another era. And could shake an audience with his very polished, powerful delivery. He now attends his father’s simple church in his own hometown congregation of Ohatchee Church of Christ.

I got to this church, after churning through a few backroads, noting the shoebox architecture of the building and the cheesy billboard motto for all passerbys to see, who were probably Baptists or Methodists or the Holiness churches from just up the road. The sun wasn’t yet down. I peered through the front entrance before I barged in with my eccentric costume on. I could see B. Diddy’s large head facing the audience. I could hear them all singing, chanting about Beulah land. B. Diddy was leading this small congregation in singing. He was decked out in a tie and a sportsjacket. Embarrassed? There was nothing embarrassing to me about what I was going to do. After all there were probably no people under 50 in there. I was waiting for him to sit down. So I stood outside, propping myself up against the red bricks of the building wondering about the few people that drove by this little highway and what they thought when they saw me. I felt like some birthday telegram performer as though I was going to jump out of a cake or something. Fixing my huge hat over my hair in the glass door, I probably appeared as what a pale Prince would look like if he performed the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. After the singing had piped down, I saw B.Diddy walking over to sit down. Now was my moment.

After I crossed the first glass doors into the actual church building, I was into the foyer where the option of 3 doors loomed before me. I saw through the cracks of the middle door that B. Diddy had ambled over to the right side of the auditorium. So it was either through the middle aisle and work my way through a pew getting people to really notice me, or it was the less intrusive way of the far right door closer to where B. Diddy was sitting. I chose, to my dismay, the less rude, more clandestine door. I just wanted to embarrass him a little, not disrupt anything. So I got around to that right door and just as I opened it and was about to enter in and all the stares would begin, I see him jump up from the seat right beside the door and nearly tackle me, pushing us back into the foyer. We both erupted into laughter as we embraced. And our giggles, mine in particularly, started to rise in volume. “Sshhh!” he said. “I knew it. I knew it. I knew the moment I hung up the phone. You were going to get me good.”
All that I could say was, “You know me too well. and Man, and you had to ruin it!”
“Well, you can come in. Just don’t wear the hat.”
He had heard the glass doors shut when I entered and was expecting me at any moment. If I had chosen the other door, I would’ve walked in with cowboy hat before everyone.
I kept my cowboy hat by my side, and the both of us marched into the auditorium. I still got a few stares, though friendly; I was still in my ruffled shirt.
Singing continued. The old swaying swinging. Songs that I couldn’t remember, but probably struck some deep remembrance in my subconscious them being sung when I was a small child. B. Diddy’s father got up and gave the sermon. A nice sermon, simple and congenial with here and there even a rhyme. I think Mr. Dunaway is known all over Alabama for his many rhyming slogans he likes to throw out there.

After most everything was done. B. Diddy got up and introduced me to the entire church. As he was doing so, I thought to get one last stab at him, and before he pointed me out, right at the moment when everyone turns around to glare at the visitor, I lean my head back and pretend as though I am sleeping and then waking up, embarrassed. After commenting on this, B.Diddy asked me to come to the front in my ruffled shirt and checkered pants…that didn’t even match. And he announced to the congregation about my future plans for moving to New Zealand. How I’d live in Russia and made it sound as though I lived in many more countries. He described me to being this fearless and extraordinary apostle, like Paul who goes from shore to shore all for the testimony of the gospel. In short, he made me out to be somebody I wasn’t exactly. Exaggerating things, a bit just like all preachers can do.

Afterwards, the people flocked to me. Asking me about Russia and about this or that. No one commented on my clothes. I really believe that B.Diddy was in part getting me back for my charade. Though, even if he didn’t paint me to be such an extra-ordinary character, I think that they would’ve been just as friendly. I’m always surprised by conservative churches. I think them to be half dead, but then I'm always floored by their hospitality and generosity.

Friday, February 22, 2008

My Quick Trip through the Florida Keys; To Key West and Back

I had a full day ahead of me and a night. I had a rental car that I was master of…a burnt orange Kia that I would’ve picked out differently if I wasn’t in a hurry when I arrived at the airport a few days before. I had warm weather, especially for February. And a little rain, though I hoped not for long. And all the way an itching desire to go south, to fall straight into the tropics, to lunge right over the sea onto some lush islands. I didn’t have to be back for my last store in Miami until Monday. It was Sunday…and my feet hit the gas pedal of that little burnt orange Kia as I headed south.

The traffic was bad and the clouds obfuscated the blue, sea-calling skies, but I was resilient and pressed on. Distant wise the trip was to be about 160 miles. But once you get on that brushy one-way road that leads to the very tip of peninsular Florida, traffic creeps by, at least in the afternoon. The sun eventually came out and I stopped several times on the way down. Once on Key Largo for a plate of shrimp. Another time around Islamorada to stake out a possible stopping/resting point for my return (More about this later). And thirdly, I veered off the road when the late afternoon sun shone brightly upon a sign that read “Plane rides over the Keys…Welcome” or some such advertisement. I thought “Why not? If it’s only about 20 bucks or so, I’ll take a little sky tour of this paradise.” Pulling in, there was some sort of carnival going on. I maneuvered around the place found the airplane people. And was directed to a little hut where skydiving was being taught. And then I thought, “Ah, maybe I could go skydiving. If it’s like a 100 bucks or so.” But the prices were ridiculous there or maybe its been that long since I jumped out of an airplane. Up in the north of Florida, almost 10 years ago…I jumped for less than 100 dollars. Now, its around 270. I’ll have to pass on that. I asked the skydiving guide about just taking a plane ride and he pointed way back in this semi road, semi trail that the pilot was back there on the landing strip who could talk to me about that.

When I followed this gravel road around to where all these little crop dusters sat seeming to invite my enthusiasm, I had a hard time finding the old pilot. Finally, a tall gray-haired fellow told me the price. He only takes 3 people up at the price of 120. Dang it! No one else was around that wanted to fly. And the sun was beginning its golden-orange descent all marvelously for the closing of the day. I would miss a spectacular ride. I drove out of there that much more charged to do and see something glorious.

I got to Key West right before sunset. Those quaint little tropical streets were bustling with energy. A rooster or two blocked some of the main intersections. I had a very difficult time finding a parking space. I always try to shoot for making no payments to park at all. It’s really a challenge in large cities and touristy areas. I almost locked my keys in my car at this one hotel parking lot in Key West…and they surely would have towed me. But luckily, I left my back door unlocked and managed to hide my car in a superb location. Then I walked through the streets that were beginning to light up with festivities and attractions.

Near this old section of this city, probably where pirates raided and plundered, was a little port area where large crowds of people were assembled. Acrobats and magicians did their shows all contended for the attention and therefore tips of the audience. I’ve been in a lot of big, even exotic cities and seen some remarkable street performers. But this area was the most concentrated I’ve seen for such a small space. After one performance was done you could hear the performers getting the audience to count down to the start of their show. And the crowd swarmed back and forth, oohing and ahhing, laughing and just staring in amazement among this gravel-famous talent. I missed what was left of the sunset on Keywest because these 2 acrobats who could juggle sticks of fire standing on each others heads.

At night fall, I found myself a hammock and a margarita on a little beach behind a hotel. I guess you could say I trespassed to get to this hammock but I purchased this margarita from the hotel bar legally. I laid there looking at the moonlight out on the water. Is there anything more fabulous than having the moon piercing through palm fronds as you lay on a hammock and the cool, gentle sway of the ocean breeze swings you? I lay there thinking to myself. I had to be back in Miami the next morning. And there was still much of Key West to experience. I felt like I just got there. The plan was to drive all night back and build that rack in that store in the morning and then go to a hotel and get some sleep hopefully later that day.

After this short relaxation, I wandered down the streets where all the people were thronging. I must admit I received many a glance from a middle-aged man in a flowery or a pink shirt. The women here were not as pretty as the women in Miami. But I believe there are few places where the women could possibly be prettier than Miami. The Bars were thriving to a wild beat, a primitive impulse. I couldn’t tell which ones were gay or not? After all it was Key West. I wasn’t looking for a bar to drink in. I had to drive a long, sleepless journey tonight. Besides, I’d promised my mother I wouldn’t drink anymore. She read my previous stories about New Orleans. Ah but the margarita…yes, the one margarita, well it was Key West…you got to have a margarita in Key West. I also had Key Lime pie on a stick which is a must. But for the most part I just wanted to dance again to some wild Cuban music. Eventually I found a dance floor not Cuban or Latin at all. Just a bunch of partying tourists assembled on the roof, I think of where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out. These 3 big-boned girls all danced to the classic rock of the DJ. They were really enjoying themselves. I stood there…wanting to dance but not really feeling the magic like 2 nights ago (read my note of Dancing in Miami for those that are curious.) And my feet were even sorer than before. But I felt less inhibited about it all. After all I had owned the floor two nights before and it was less of a barrier getting to that point where you just don’t care what other people think. But then emerging out of the DJ’s speakers lifted this song into the nighttime revelry. It was Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls” and my eyes sprang open gazing at the 3 large women dancing grooving on the roof of this bar. Something hooked me deep inside. I had to dance to this song. It was the song of the moment. You know, those magical instances when a song comes on that aptly seizes the very circumstances, the very mood and texture of the moment and says “This is what is happening RIGHT NOW, come, experience it”.

So I began to waltz slowly out there. My footsteps keeping in steady time with the ‘boom boom’ of the drum during the opening bit as I approached this troop of portly women. I envisioned this sort of demure procession where all 3 turned and enveloped me as I moved about like a smooth tiger among well…how do I put this…bigger tigers. Maybe towards the end when Freddie Mercury shouts out “Get on your bikes and ride!”, we all doing dancing moves like we’re on bicycles or something. But this wasn’t how it happened. I approached one of these girls and her eyes locked into mine. The other two pretended not to notice me. What a catastrophe when only one girl notices you. The two of us start dancing…and the lyrics flow “I was just a skinny lad, never knew no good from bad”. I found myself acting theatrical almost wanting to act out what the lyrics were saying, almost referring to myself as the skinny lad and thank God, I stopped short of pointing to my partner when the “left alone with big fat fanny” echoed. Or better yet that I didn’t start swinging my arms all around them when “Fat Bottomed Girls you make the rockin world round” resounded. What the crap was I thinking? I danced normally with her. And with her the next song and the next song. Then she was tired. So we sat and I met all 3. My dance partner was a pretty girl with pretty eyes. She was from Ohio. We talked a good deal until these other guys arrived. Guys that these ladies had met on the cruise ship over here. They were a loud, outgoing bunch. Had been drinking. And didn’t know the first rudiments of conversation or dancing for that matter. Then we all started dancing again. I was with my trusty Ohio girl. Some of these guys began dancing with the girls grinding on them and all. I don’t do that. It makes me uncomfortable to start rubbing myself against the bodyparts of my partner. I even hesitate holding their hands at times. And wouldn’t it be something that I let too much space get between me and my partner, mostly dancing completely apart from her and one of these guys came in and swooped her away. She wanted to be touched by somebody, I knew it. And I wasn’t going to do it. My feelings were not hurt, maybe my vanity, a little. But I didn’t want to be the awkward guy not grinding on anybody, so I slipped out of the bar and down to the street. I didn’t even say goodbye to my Ohio fat-bottomed girl.

I paid the last visit to Key West at the huge barrel that marks the southern most point of the continental US. And the sign that read 90 miles to Cuba. I wish I could’ve gone there.

I got in my rental burnt-orange Kia and at around midnight and started my trek back to Miami. I had plenty of time. So I took it. Here and there pulling off Highway 1 and exploring other roads on these islands. The moon was nearly full, it lit up the entire scenery. It is the best time to drive on these long, long bridges linking each island to each other. At times, on some of these bridges, there was so much moonlight, that I’d turn off my carlights and just drive. And be amazed at the moon soaking the ocean and sky into its glowing magnificence. Getting tired of the same old songs on the radio, I began listening to the Latin stations. And this Cuban style music really grew on me. Eventually, I came to one of the places that I’d stopped before. It was a hotel that had a beach behind it, along with hammocks lashed to palm trees. It was about 2:30 in the morning and I slipped my car through the parking lot, and then went to go take a short nap on one of these hammocks. But the wind was so bad coming in from the sea. I was cold and my cough was getting worse. I must have dallied around for about an hour trying to go to sleep, just relaxing and thinking, feeling weight upon the ropes of this hammock and really believing that a fierce rain was blowing in. I felt a drop or two. And I was up and out of there to continue my drive. I never did eat any supper that entire night in Key West. And I was getting hungry. So every key that I passed through, I kept my eyes open for a late night café or something. Eventually I got out of the Keys and was in this town called Homestead at about 5 in the morning. I find this Cuban café open. And I sat outside ordered some steak and eggs and some café con leche and just sat there observing all the various people that came up to order to start their day.

I got to the Walgreen’s store in Miami (actually Coral Gables) at about half past 6 or 7. the sun was just coming up. It took me the next 4 hours to build that T-shirt rack and place all the T-shirts all neatly in them. Next it was to the hotel in Ft. Lauderdale where I slept maybe 2 or 3 hours, and then I was up and wondering what interesting things I could find in Ft. Lauderdale for my last night in South Florida.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Dancing in Miami

If I may boast a little bit, but last night...last night was ecstatic. I gave in. I gave in to that anxious, reverberating music of noxious nighttime and kinetic yearning. And giving in is sure to be one of two things. Either a shameful embarrassment, a meek shuffling off the dance floor when you realize how awkward things have gotten, or it's a effusive triumph mixed with the pounding rhythm of the moment with the elation of the crowd watching.

I've been in Miami for the past two days. Tons and tons to talk about. Tons and tons of things to observe, ponder, and experience. 2 nights ago, I ventured into Miami Beach wondering what all the hubbub was. Entered some cush hotel and bounded through the doors where I heard the rumba drum pounding out into the electric night. A brass horn, a golden trumpet blew its sonorous message out into the charged atmosphere. The band was Cuban as was most of the crowd. All the people in the lounge, sat at fancy dining tables. Glasses and silver forks sparkling in the brilliance of the vibe. Everyone swayed. Everyone clapped. Everyone wanted to dance, but the dining tables all held their dominion over the floor and reminded everyone of decent formality. But all heard the music call...and maybe only a drunk or two responded in full.

Last night, I decided to go to downtown Miami, explore a bit. Walked a good deal finding nothing of spectacular interest. My feet were worn out. That day was one of the most difficult with my job. UPS had sent 13 large boxes of Tshirts to the wrong store. Both Walgreen's stores were around the Little Havana area. But driving in the Miami traffic during the day is not the most stress-free of rides. I had to build a rack in one store and then turn around and lug all these heavy boxes to the other store, a good many street lights and honked horns away, and set up a rack there. Only stopping for a break to catch a nice Cuban cuisine where none of the staff spoke English. Looking around the place, I was sure I had the only blue eyes for blocks around. The busy day ended and what should I desire to do but, like I said, go exploring. My feet already felt like discarded slabs of Cuban ham that the places I ate threw out. I drove into the main heart of Miami. Near the port area where all the yachts were lining up being reflected like liquid silver in the bouncing water.

Lights and lights. And noise...not the annoying noise of busyness, but the gracious noise of life being lived at full throttle. Near this port area is this plaza and park where shops and restaurants line the docks. Crowds of people all chatting to one another in Spanish. I felt out of place, my yellow hair hanging down like cornsilk reflected almost white in the streetlamps. Almost a head taller than everyone else and oblivious to all conversation, I walked about the social scenes uncomprehendingly, pale face and hair glistening in the shadows of the gulf.
Music streamed every which way, but the largest crowd was assembled in a little arena. For the longest while, the people just sat before what looked to be a band at break. But this was a long time. Eventually the band returned. The guitars were hoisted, the drumsticks tapped, and the microphone was delicately held and then sang into. Besides the band they had this dancing girl. She was amazing. Both in looks and in movement. Her legs and hips swung to the beat of the drums. Salsa echoed throughout her limbs and you could feel the intensity of the latino beat in the momentuous sweep of her beautiful joints unified into one melodic spirit. I like women who can dance; I always have. This siren of movement was hired by the band to dance, probably to entrance the onlookers who were male. But she would hold CDs of the band and go about playing the part of a graceful advertising agent.

Aside from her, few people were dancing. Except for two or three of the people who really didn't really care about standing out. One guy in particularly, contended with the beautiful girl for the audience's attention. It was this old black man, with beard and baseball cap of the Pirates of the Caribbean. He resembled a famous relic, a notorious folk icon from my hometown, called Dancing Dave who would range the highways all dressed in white with tap shoes on and if anyone honked their horns as they drove by then he would in return give them a little jig. This guy looked just like Dancing Dave, except he was much smaller. It must have been Dancing Dave's brother. This homeless man danced all around like some aboriginal shaman before the savage drum beats of a solstice ritual. I kept musing, "I wonder what that guy's thinking. Is he insane? Surely, he must be the happiest person here."

Then every now and then various people would get up and dance, but for the most part the spectators vastly outnumbered any dancers. And all the while, I could hear that call. But I was reluctant. I would not give in. There is something highly reserved and shy about me sometimes. It's almost as though at times I am embarrassed to even being caught smiling. I just want to remain somber and solemn, mouth shut and the self bottled up. But then there is this wild man inside, and I need not explain...It's the flip side of a complex coin. How can it be that a living human being can desire solitude and yet yearn for the limelight at the same time?
The salsa and mamba continued wafted out onto the waves mirroring the hypnotic city lights. This crowd was a fun bunch. They were of all ages and races and economic types. Nobody was trying to act cool or nothing. Usually that sinks all the fun, when everyone is wondering what the other person's thinking. No, these people were enjoying themselves. This older lady began to feel the music's pulse and was down in front of the crowd her friends cheering her on.

The band moved into some early rock and played "Johnny Be Good" and it's all I could do but clutch a rail to keep myself from charging out there. Why didn't I have a friend with me so I wouldn't be that guy...the type of guy who dances when it's just him, him alone. And it would be perfectly fine if whatever friend I had with me didn't dance, but was just there to egg me on. Then the realization hit. I'm here in Miami on a Friday night. I'll never live this situation again. In the middle of a slow song, I caught myself thinking, "Alright,if they play another fast upbeat song. I'm heading out there. I'm asking that older lady to dance with me."

The next song was fast and full of vibe. I tapped on the lady's shoulder and asked her to dance. Juanita and I hit the dance floor. (Although I never really caught her name, Juanita will suffice and probably had the greatest probability of her being named that.)

Juanita didn't speak English. But she and her friends passed for less South Floridians with their paler skin and lighter hair. I twirled and spun her around to the entranced tempo of drums and the piano synthesized to sound like a brass instrument. After a few twirls and turns we were being watched exclusively by a large portion of the audience. Then the dance was over and I felt exuberant about the whole experience. Why did I ever hesitate?

I was going to rest my weary legs when it just so happened that "Sweet Home Alabama" began to play. I couldn't sit this one out. I tried to exclaim to Juanita and her friends that I was from Alabama and this meant that I had to dance during this song. Then I bounded out in from of the audience. Juanita trailing behind me. More energy was accumulating inside me, I was forgetting the soreness in my feet. All I could feel was the rhapsodic gusto of that time and place. During the song, I even displayed my driver's license and started dancing while I held it up so everyone would get the point. The others far in the back of the arena was probably wondering what I was holding up.

By the end of this song, it was all over then. I mean with my inhibition. I was clearly broken out of my shell, foxtrotting giddily ontop of it. Every song I moved, shook, jived, and cavorted in the middle of the dancefloor with Juanita by my side. The crowds eyes and smiles were upon me. More people got up to dance, they wanted to feel that electric fun, catch a wild note from the band and send them vibrantly frolicking. I even had the crowd cheer me when I would do a handspring or when I would get Juanita to step up on some steps to make her my height and then dance as if everything was natural. Juanita was a short one...that crazy lady. She even kissed me on the cheek. The music winded down and I did a one man show entertainingly jerking to the lasting piano strikes while the crowd looked on in cheers. I tell you the night was charged with glee and joy. Miami...I'm really beginning to love this place.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

An Arkansas Hitchhiker

Rambling west on Highway 64 through the country of Arkansas, I picked him up. It had been awhile since I had trusted that subtle gleam of hospitality with the entire risky venture of picking up hitchikers. For one, it was his suit that won my four wheeled generosity into stopping. Second, it was the clear fact that he had just stepped out of a church across the road.

It was Friday and I was on my way to Searcy, Arkansas to visit some friends. I was getting over my cold, with my tornado survival luck in mind, and my sickly sojourn in Memphis behind me now. Earlier that day, I had constructed a rack in Forrest City and now I was free for the weekend, not to mention alive and well.

Learned scholars blared from my car speakers. As much as I find it hard to believe, I've gotten a little burned out on the radio or my CDs for long highway trips. I've discovered audio books straight from the library. And then, found to my excitement...entire lectures on history, philosophy, literature, and art...and people...ages and ages of all the great thoughts uttered by people. Some brainy intellectual with a speech impediment was lecturing very nerdily about Plato's Forms and Ideals. You know, the whole bit about all of us being stuck in a cave and we only seeing the shadows on the wall...that being the majority's view of reality. His voice was almost annoying at first. But then after a while it was as though this large insect was speaking through the car speakers, this large man-like insect in a tweed suit and gigantic glasses stuck in the dash of my car talking passionately about Plato.

The afternoon sunshine dazzled the miles and miles of fields that I whipped past. I immediately take to the wide, sprawling scenery once across the Mississippi. One can breathe almost deeper and see the horizon.

Up across the highway, I saw the hitchhiker. An old black man like a dandified scarecrow in the afternoon's golden light. Again, my eyes leapt to his suit. A burnt orange color. Those types of suits that elderly African-American men sport to church and revivals. He had this black derby hat pulled down snugly on his head. A gentleman I must say. And in an exclamation of excitement, I knew I had to pick up this gentleman. I pressed the brakes hard, and reversed in the middle of the highway, all the while managing to hush my CD player, not many people are interested in Plato. Besides now I had someone else to listen to. I rolled down the window and he asked me where I was headed. "Searcy", I said. There are times in my life, when I have this vague notion of the black wise man. You know the quintessential Morgan Freeman. That if I listened to what this repressed folk icon has to say than it will be a fountain of wisdom to follow...something like Plato but a bit more rustic and down to earth. There has been a time or two, I have been wrong with this notion.

He got in and immediately the aroma of whisky hit me. He was a drunk African-American gentlemen in a burnt orange suit.
"Where ya going?"I asked.
"I've never heard of it."
"Just drive...I'll show you where to go. It's not far."

I asked him where was he coming from. He said a funeral.
Not more than two minutes passed and he told me to turn left. And we were shimmying through this small town...McCrory...I think it was called. There was a cop car on the corner and my passenger began spilling out obsenities right and left. He was using every expletive imaginable. But it wasn't an angry bucket full of cuss words..it was a matter of fact ones. He just amiably said..."See that #&!!*$# cop there...that's a..." And he continued saying things that my mother would have kicked him out of the car for, if ever my mother picked up hitchhikers to begin with.
He was only informing me of the cop, educatingly. Like an encyclopedic tour guide giving me the tour of McCrory with the only words in the encyclopedia being 4 letter ones.

I changed the subject.
"This funeral? Who passed away?"
"Oh, this friend of mine."
"That's not good. How'd he die?"
"He took his own life."
"Oh,no! That's sad. I'm so sorry."
The man didn't seem to be that bothered. Only drunk and more into cussing policemen.
"Why do you think he committed suicide?"
At this point we were passing a large old bank in the small downtown section of McCrory. He pointed.
"Because he owed all this damn money to that #$%!*& bank..and another %$%$#% bank across town." He pulled a funeral program out of his pocket. It was a picture of a white man about 40. He had a family. Then it had a text of some sort of eulogy inside. I caught a glimpse of the eulogy. The man liked fishing and storytelling. He had a goatee and he was a little heavy-set. Poor man. Hard to envision such a tragedy on such a glorious afternoon.

Then I turned a right out of the much-cursed about town of McCrory and was in mere seconds in Patterson. Population from the sign said about 400.
My passenger started talking about this woman up the road that works at a grocery store and how he was either going to have sex with her or had had sex with her. Probably both. I couldn't really tell. He wasn't exactly clear. The only clarity was his very explicit way of talking about sex with this woman who was apparently married. I tried changing the subject again.
"You married?" I asked.
"Naw!" he cackled.
And before anymore education into the lifestyles of the people of Patterson or McCrory could passed on to me, he said that this was where I could drop him off. He got out and then stooping back in through the window asked if I would buy him a soda. I had a can of Dr. Pepper in my trunk. I stopped the car in the middle of the main highway in Patterson, AR and popped the trunk. Got out and handed him a Dr. Pepper. As I got back in the car, he smiled at me and said, "God bless you."

I drove off waving and turning Plato back on. We're all people in a cave...people in a cave watching that light from the outside making shadow puppets on the wall.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

My Encounter with the Tornado

Being sick and in Memphis, I write you. Both of these situations being highly congruent towards a certain style of misery, I mope about the hotel. Whatever hotel I happen to be in. Last night's hotel we were all kicked out of. Yes, I was here when the storms smacked the city, coughing and wondering just how serious to take all the tornado warning precautions.

I've seen much damage of tornadoes in my lifetime. I've seen a waterspout or two. And maybe once witnessed a midgie twister. But I've never laid eyes on a full-scale monster of funnel-cloud with its tantrums. -That is until Tuesday night. I was in Southaven, Mississippi...just a stone's throw south of Memphis. Literally on the stateline. Statelined Rd to be precise.

It must have been about 5:30, the light gray sky of the day was shifting into the darker gray sky of twilight. I lay on my bed in my hotel room, the drapes of the window thrown back, to allow this dull grayness alone to illuminate my room. With half-open lids, I laid there. I was tired. My work for the day was decent enough, but I had this cold and decided to just lay there and watch as the lightning occassionally zigzagged across the sky. Before this, I had the TV on watching the weather and the primaries. They were suggesting everyone in the area to get down in a basement and stay away from glass. I was on the 3rd floor of a Holiday Inn Express. Still laying there liking my bed more than some room crammed with strangers.

The lights and power cut off, and I lay in this semi darkness, the darkening grayness enveloping the entire room, with here and there a flash of bright lightning. I love lightning. There's something wholly awesome and rare about it. But apart from thinking about lightning, my mind drifted into the proclaimed danger of this storm. In true dramatic fashion, I began to ponder the possibility of death. And yet, I felt oddly indifferent. There was no terror, nor alarm. Why was I so resigned? "Am I being suicidal?" I thought. "No, I think life is wonderful. It's just I'm not..." and I couldn't think of why I was so apathetic towards dying. I can't really say it was because of some holy longing to see God, either. At least not at this point. I was in no great spiritual frame of mind. But I think it had to do more with just being very curious about it all. Where do we really go? What is it like to die? What a quest, what curiosity...and it had to be more interesting than staying in the same hotels, eating the same dinners, and reading the same kinds of books. Looking back,it must have been the cold I have. You know how it is, sickness can turn ones mind very listless and sometimes morbid.

My head laid back across my pillow when I saw out the window what looked to be a entire swarm of bats flying. I leaned forward and realized that those were not bats but particles of roofs and shingles, etc. being swept in this giant whirlwind. It was massive and it was only a couple of blocks away. I sat upright, marveling at this beast. I could see it turn and whip, strut and prance, as it mowed through the trees. Was it coming for me? Which way was it churning? I sat on the edge of my bed my jaw dropped. From the 3rd story, I had a pretty spectacular view. I saw the cyclone whip its fury across some trees. Then stomp into something that made fire explode. Powerlines. One blaze was so large and lasted for a few seconds that I thought a wild fire was about to break out. All the while, I kept wondering if I should throw on my pants and run downstairs. But I didn't want to move. I wanted to see it. Besides, it was traveling parallel to me.

The fire blew out but the gustful giant kept steadily marching further into these trees and small buildings. Here and there another bright orange flame danced about. I began to pray the Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner." Again, not necessarily because I felt terrified of it killing me. But more so the result of that, that if it did was I really ready to see God? Was my soul prepared? In great wonder more than terror I sat on my bed in my boxers, eyes not taking off for a second the whirlwind. And as I repeated this one-phrase prayer...I changed the "have mercy on me"..to "have mercy on them" the people that could very well be in its direct path. How selfish of me. I saw clearly it was not coming directly to me, but it was most certainly going to trample on someone. I watched as it continued in its wrathful path further and further away. Seeing it was gone, I felt a new vivacity from my feverish self. Again, a curiosity to see how many other people saw just what I saw. What did our street look like? I threw on my pants, a coat, and my shoes and ran down the dark, dark hallway and the stairs til I go to the lobby.

There was an entire congregation of people assembled here all talking about it. Some people had seen it. Those few who were in the glass patio near the pool. But they didn't see the fires or much detail them being on the ground floor. There was this round old man sitting in a chair munching on a barbeque rib. He was talking to someone and he caught a glance at me and said laughingly, "I bet it kind of makes you want to cut your long hair so it doesn't stand on end! Ha!Ha!"
I wanted to snap back at him, "What the hell does my hair have to do with this tornado? If anything it makes one not give a damn about one's hair." But all that came out was a grin with a congenial mumble that I didn't think he understood. He continued munching on his rib. And eventually offered me one. I turned it down feeling that all I wanted to eat was some soup. I think I almost made a friend then. But I left and went outside. A crowd was assembled there as well. Sirens were wailing. Bright flashes of blue and red whirling down the road. The smell of chaotic rain.

I walked around knowing this wasn't good for my cold. But I had never seen the sky lit up like it was. Everything had this incandescent blue light to it. It was right at twilight and shifting through the dark gray clouds above I saw almost what looked like a window appear and this peak of electic cerulean shone through it and illuminated everything below in its vibrant sweep of cerulean blue. I stood there marveling at this, noticing all the power on this entire street was knocked out. Occassionally I would start coughing badly and then I finally retreated back into my room.

I was a little hungry. And I couldn't do anything in my room but lay there. So I went down to the next exit where there were lights and the people were carrying on as though nothing had happened. Of course, walking into the restaraunts and the lobbies there...everyone was talking about the tornadoes. On every TV station the weather was being covered. They showed footage of the tornadoes. And everyone of them didn't match my view of it. I wish I had had a video camera in my room with me. I spent hours away at this exit. Hanging out in other hotel lobbies reading, checking email, talking on the phone. When I finally decided to go to sleep in my room. I figured that the power might be back on. But no...as I passed it the road was blocked off. So I went back to these hotel lobbies killing time..really yearning to lie in bed again. I needed the sleep. A little after midnight, I went back. The lights on the entire exit were still out. The road was still blocked. I asked the policeman how much longer until I could get to my room. He said that my hotel had told everyone to find other places to stay for the night and he let me go and collect my luggage.

A hotel is threatening when completely dark and deserted. Luckily, the owner, a rotund Indian man, was there with a flashlight. So I borrowed his light wandered up to the 3rd story with this lone light flying about the darkened hallway as I tried to block out any recollection of horror movies that involve hotels. I got my stuff and found within minutes a room at a crappy Motel 6. But at least their lights and electricity were working. I didn't feel like sleeping. I took a shower and continued reading and eventually went to sleep. When I awoke the next morning my cold was so bad, I sounded like I had been hit by a tornado. I'm slowly getting better...but I could've fared much worse.