Saturday, June 8, 2013

Going Out as You Came In

It was a horrible time.  My grandfather, possibly the most revered man in my life, had been gone just over a year.  My grandmother had chosen to follow him 14 months later, on Christmas Eve.  My crazy aunt was back in town for the services and nothing was going according to plan.

My grandmother had not been a happy woman.  She'd married wrong perhaps.  Or had always pictured  herself with more.  Maybe she'd just woken up perpetually on the wrong side of the bed.  For 76 years.  Who knew really?  All I did know is that at my ripe old age of twenty-nine, I was saying goodbye to a woman who had not liked me from the get-go and over time, I'd learned to return her sentiment.  It was a mutual thing.  Oh, we loved each other - we were Southern women after all - but like?  Not a damned bit.

I sat in the third pew back, gripping my best friend's hand so tightly she was probably praying for forgiveness for some unknown sin.  Not because I was wrought with guilt or even all that upset.  No, I was cutting off Li's flesh because my big-haired, red-headed aunt was pacing cautiously near the open casket while my mother spoke in hushed tones to the preacher about the plan.  I was nervous watching the woman bob and weave, near the pale features of her mother.

I knew from past experiences that there was nothing to prepare for one of my Aunt G's infamous flip-outs, but I tensed and braced anyway like someone waiting for the impact from a rear-end collision. My mother gesticulated quietly.  She glanced at her sister.  A sly finger shot out, pointed once to her younger sibling then gently rocked back and forth in warning.  I knew that move.  I'd seen it many times in my life.

That subtle gesture meant, "No ma'am."  Simple, yet effective.  Do not do that.  Don't get near that.  Do not act like that.  Do Not Make a Scene.  Period.

My eyes moved back to my aunt.  She nodded almost imperceptibly.  She'd gotten the message.  I relaxed a bit. I took in the noticeably empty wake room.  There were a few attendees but not like that of her husband's just the year before.  I felt a pang.  No one deserved a less-than send off.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watch Aunt G turn towards her mother and place her hands on the edge of the open casket.  Oh no.  No no no no no.  I looked back towards my mother; she wasn't watching.  No no no no no no.  Not good.

Aunt G laid her forehead on the wood in between her palms and weeped.  Loudly.  My mother looked over and frowned.  Aunt G raised up and ran a hand over her mother's now frozen features.  No no no no.  Definitely NOT good.

My aunt's hands straightened my grandmother's hair, fidgeted with her blouse, her hands...  I looked to my mother, willing her to wrap things up with the Man of God.

"Elaine!"  I heard my aunt hiss, loudly.  "E-laine!"

My eyes were firmly fixed on my mother's profile, mortified yet terrified to turn and look.

"G--," my mother responded with measured calmness and in the same hushed, yet not, tone.  "Not now."

"Ee-laine!"  My aunt's hiss became even more pronounced.

"I'm talking."  My mother sounded as though she were talking to a young child and not a forty-something year old woman.

"Eeeee-Laine!"  My aunt sounded as though she were about to burst.

My mother's head whipped around, eyes brimming with fire.  I couldn't help but turn my gaze in the same direction.

There stood my aunt, holding up the edge of my grandmother's white skirt for all the world to see, pointing underneath the hem.  "They didn't put no drawers on mama!"

The last thing I heard as I slid out of the bench and practically hit the ground at a run for the exit was my mother saying, "G!  Put mama's dress down!"

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bubba's Delivers

It was late.  I was late.

My best friend and I were headed down 290 towards Austin.  It was a two and a half hour drive to the bar where I was to interview a local band and I should've left hours before.  I had been so cocky about my promptness, I'd even made arrangements to meet my parents for dinner before the interview.  My father was just this side of irritated when I called him to cancel.

In a serious rush, and fearing I'd actually be late to the interview that I had scheduled, I pushed the pedal to the floor and my bladder to its limits, not wanting to stop for any reason.  I chain-smoked and laughed with Li to keep my mind off my growing need to eliminate.

Around the Elgin area, I could take it no more.  I scanned the dark landscape for any sign of a convenient store.  Glaring lights erupted on the skyline, coming closer as I pushed the white truck as hard as it would go.  As the utopia loomed closer, I realized it was a neat, new, albeit mammoth facility, boasting numerous regular gas tanks, a handful of trucker tanks, and a parking lot that could easily accommodate a rock concert.

 I whipped in, erking to a stop and hopping out, practically unfastening my jeans as I went.  I glanced up, almost as an afterthought.  There in huge, bright red letters for all the country world to see read "Bubba's Gas, Food and Bait".  I paused, my brain trying desperately to catch up.  But only for a moment before my body reminded me of the need to accommodate it as well.  I waved Li on, hurrying through the glass doors.

To say Bubba's was vast would have been a stark understatement.  It was massive.  And brand-spanking new.  Rows of convenience foods and items stretched to our left, and an actual bar flanked our right.  A real bar.  And saddled up to it, were a handful of men straight out of the field.

As we stood stock still, a large bellied man trussed in coveralls reminiscent of a railroad conductor turned and gave us the once-over.

"Um...purty girls..."  He hissed.  As all the men around him turned in our direction, I could practically hear the dueling banjos tuning up.

Gone was the immediate urge to pee, gone was the surprise at the vastness of my surroundings, as I spun in one fluid motion, shoving at my frozen friend's back.  "Go! Go! Go!"  I demanded, shoving her out the door.

Li stumbled towards the truck, stammering with confusion.  "But what about the restroom?"

"Yeah..."  I began as screeched the tires pulling out.  "I'll catch a bush on the side of the road before I become a victim of the new Deliverance."

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

That's Just the Rum Talking

We were going out drinking.  Period.  It had been one helluva week.  Loud music, stiff drinks and grain-fed cowboys were the only things that would take the stress away.

We headed out to a relatively new bar in Cut-n-Shoot, Texas (more on that, later).  My friend, Heath, and I were sure to turn some heads and have some fun - young, blonde, loud, happy.  Perfect recipe for a Friday night.

The place was large, the music loud and the boys were...everywhere.

Now, typically as single parents, Heath and I didn't venture out often.  And neither one of us was really what you would call a 'drinker'.  Not even weekend warriors, most of the time.  Me - I was more of the two drink sipper, the ride-that-buzz-all-the-way-through-the-night drinker.  Heath?  The Binder.  Straight binge drinking, but only about once every 4-6 months at best.  Naturally, I was to be our driver.  That meant drinks came first then I slowly sobered up over the next three and half hours.

We were having a blast.  There's nothing like an easy atmosphere to allow someone to act out even without the actual booze.  Finally, the night came to a close.  Last call sounded, the bartenders reeled in the not-so-empty bottles and glasses.

We laughed all the way to the car, Heath slightly swaying.

"How many did you have?"  Heath only drank rum and cokes.  With a twist of lime.

"Like seven...I think."

"Wow."  That's all I could manage.  Seven drinks of anything other than water or soda would've put me in a coma.

The night was clear; the drive was long.  It would take over an hour down back country roads to get home.  I was good with it.  All I needed was the radio up.

About a quarter mile down the road, I notice Heath seemed to be having a bit of trouble.  She was fidgeting and making uncomfortable noises.

"You, okay?"  I ventured.

"Um...yeah."  She didn't sound too convincing.

I turned the radio to my CD.  I found a song I liked.  I tapped the steering wheel and muttered the words.

A couple more miles down the road and Heath looked fairly miserable.  "Hey, T.  I think you're gonna have to pull over."

Enough said.  Two-lane blacktop, clear bright sky, grassy shoulder.  Zip.  Done.  My car was over and in park faster than she could blink.  One thing I was not ever going to let happen if I could prevent it: vomit in my car.  Not even a drop.

Heath stumbled from the car after a scary battle with the seatbelt.  She stood, her back to me, slightly swaying in the moonlight.  I didn't want to watch. And I didn't want to hear.  I turned up the song on the CD and sang along as Celine Dion belted about love.

At the end of the song, I glanced over to make sure my friend was okay.  She was down on one knee, leaning heavily on the hand that braced against the ground.  Okay.  She was still doing okay.

Next song, volume up, I sang along serenading my friend as she lost the contents of her stomach.  Another glance revealed that now she was upright on both knees, looking all the world as though she were paying homage to the tree line.

Another song, another glance.  This time, Heath was bent on all fours.  Ooo...this could get bad, I thought.  But I didn't want to go rushing out there half-cocked.  If she was anything like me, this was the absolute LAST thing you wanted anyone to actually witness you doing.

I waited another beat or two, staring out at the clear night ahead of us.  No cars passed.  The road was ours.  I turned to call out to my friend.  She was gone.

Nowhere.  No where in sight.  My heartbeat rose, my panic followed.  I forced my way out of the car and ran to the ditch.  There she lay, spread eagle in the grass, staring at the sky.  She blinked.  Good.  I helped her up and put her back in her seat.

I began to drive, not saying a word.  We still had an hour to go and if she needed to just lay there, I certainly wasn't going to disturb her.  I put the music on and lowered the volume to a soft croon.  We drove in silence for the next several minutes.

"I'm so sorry, T.  I'm about to pass out.  Are you okay to get us home?"

"Oh yeah.  I got this."

"Okay, 'cause I'm going.  Right now."  Heath laid her head back and her breathing slowed, her eyes closed.

Five seconds later, her head popped up and she began chatting away about all the men we'd met in the club. How cute this one was, how hot and into her that one had been...then she branched out in to all kinds of topics.  Heath began to yabber away, barely taking enough breath to fuel the blather coming out of her mouth.  I didn't even get a word in edgewise the whole way home.

Back at our apartments, I saw her to her place and made sure she got in bed before heading to my own small apartment across the complex.

The next afternoon, Heath called.

"Hey, how are you feeling?"  I asked.

"Ugh.  Could be better, but not too bad.  Just a little sluggish today."

"Yeah, we had quite a night."  I was smiling into the phone.

"Hey, listen - I'm so sorry about that ride home."

"Oh, it happens, girl.  No worries."

"I just can't believe I passed out on you like that."

I sat in surprised silence for a moment or two.  "Passed out?  You never shut the hell up."

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Citrus, All Grown Up

Standing in line to checkout at the local Super Target, we noticed that the lady in front of us had several bags of produce.  This particularly caught my attention, because I don't like all the little plastic bags, so I'm always fascinated with the people that use them.  No judgement, just curiosity.

As the cashier hurriedly grabbed bag after bag and looked it up on her cheat sheet, the customer began to get a little 'helpful'.  And by helpful, I mean she was obviously getting irritated but there was no way in hell she was going to exhibit such behavior in public, so she brandished a smile and began to get...'helpful'.

As the checkout lady held up a bag, the customer said, "That's cilantro."  (And when DID it become "cilantro" instead of "coriander" and why did we have to change it? - just another curiosity...)

"Oh, I know.  But I have to get the code."  The cashier responded much to the lady's chagrin and my internal humor.  Again, she rummaged through her cheat sheet and again, she held up the next bag.  Finally, she grabbed the last clear plastic bag and held it up.  It contained three small green balls.

"Oh!"  The cashier exclaimed with more delight than was warranted in my opinion.  "Would you look at that?  You've got baby lemons!"

My eyes shot to D's, then to the lady in front of us that was looking completely stumped.  "Um..."  She began politely as the cashier searched her card for lemon infants.  "Those are limes."

I had to turn my head to keep from laughing out loud and noticed that everyone else in line behind us did the same.

Monday, March 25, 2013

That's Not My Car

I had just returned home to Texas after a several year stint in California; I was eager to start my professional career and hungry to pay my own way.  Seriously, hungry...starving.  As a young adult, I killed any minor food cravings with cigarettes and soda so I whipped into the local 7-Eleven on my way to meet a friend for lunch.  I was also a young woman dead-set on being vain, so obviously I wouldn't actually be eating lunch; therefore, I was going to need that caffeine/nicotine cocktail.

As I hadn't found the funding to pay for a car of my own yet, I had borrowed my mother's hand-me-down '77 Buick.  Ah, just the thing to make any girl feel less-than: it was white with strategically placed rust spots and the once green material top had long ago faded and peeled so that it flapped in the wind like a drunk waving at a parade any time you managed to get the old girl up to 35 mph.  But still, it was a ride and I was heading to meet a long-time friend I hadn't seen in a while.

Mason Road was the main thoroughfare and quite busy during the lunch time hour, but I nonetheless found a parking spot.  I gingerly spun the steering wheel, eased in to the spot, pressed the brake and then all hell broke loose.  My foot, clad in a new pair of un-scuffed heels (girls, explain this to the men please), winged right off the brake and slammed on the gas.  Hard.

Before I knew it, Ol' Bess had reared up like she'd been kicked in the flank and surged through the extremely large plate glass window of the BBQ shop I had attempted to park in front of, taking out the small brick wall that housed it as well.

I jammed the car in to Park and immediately jumped out, taking note of all the people that had literally stopped in their tracks at the demolition job I'd just completed.  I spied the pay phone on the wall just to the right of the wreckage and made a dash for it, doing the only thing I knew to do.

I took a huge breath as she picked up, steadying my nerves.  "Mom, I forgot to ask this morning, do you have insurance on the car?"

"Well, yes, I do honey, it's in the...Tracie Michelle, what have you done?"  I could hear the panic rise in her voice, though her tone was hushed in her office.

"Seriously, mom, I just wanted to make sure the car was covered before I headed out."  'Of the window' I did not add.

My mother was fairly screaming by now.  "What did you do?  What did you do?"

Just then a large shadow crept into the space I'd taken to staring at on the sidewalk.  As I brought my eyes upwards, I found myself looking at the tallest cowboy wearing the most stern expression I'd ever seen.  I stared wide-eyed and panicked, my mother's voice a mere noise in the background as he slowed his stroll to a halt in front of me, his fingers gingerly sliding into the tops of his jeans pockets.

He cocked one hip out and shifted his stance.  "Ma'am, is this your car?"  He drawled, a slight nod of his head in the direction of the Buick firmly encased in the restaurant.

"What?!  Who is that?  Why is he asking about the car?" My mother's voice had risen another octave in my ear.

"Sir,"  I began hesitantly, "is that your restaurant?"

"Yes ma'am, it is."  He answered.

"Then, no sir, it's not."  I replied.  I hadn't actually lied - it was, after all, my mother's car.

"I gotta go, mom."  I all but whispered into the phone.  "I accidentally drove the car into Nonmacher's BBQ joint."  Before I hung up, I heard her re-assure me she was on her way.  I just prayed she didn't stop for cigarettes on the way.

I walked with John over to the police car that had appeared along with countless bystanders and quite a few old classmates that I hadn't seen in in years.  Luckily, John knew the cop and offered him a sandwich while we waited for the tow truck.  Not that we needed one, but the officer explained it was better for the right people to 'extract' the car.

As the burly tow truck driver slowly backed the car out of the now-vacant window space, we noticed a large table overturned on it's side, the round tabletop facing outward, as though to shield some children playing cowboys and indians.

"Well, at least there's no real damage to the insides and no one got hurt."  John said on an exhale while I stood at his side, still shaking in my shiny black patent pumps.  "C'mon inside, young lady.  Would you like a drink or a sandwich?"  I shook my head as he ushered me and the policeman towards the still standing door.

Just then a man stood up abruptly from behind the overturned table.

"Well, Bill!"  John exclaimed to the patron.  "You still got a-hold of your sandwich."  He pointed out, nodding to the half-eaten sandwich firmly set in Bill's grip.

"I just figured if it was gonna be my last, John, I was gonna do my best to finish it."

That day I learned a lesson, announced my return, saw my mom smoke for the first time in years, got a job, left an enduring mark on my hometown and above all, made a friend.

Years later, I ran into Nonmacher's and excitedly told John I'd had a daughter.  He smiled broadly before his face dropped in to a somber expression and as he laid his hand on my shoulder, he requested: "Please let her daddy teach her how to drive."

God love you, John, for being such a forgiving and understanding man.  I love you, John, for keeping your calm.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sketchy Service

Sitting on the floor at a local Moroccan restaurant, we waited patiently - yet again - for our eating experience to begin.  My man had never experienced a Moroccan meal and I was excited to be able to provide that for him.  I had purchased the 6-course dining experience as a Groupon special so that if he didn't like it, we wouldn't be out a ton of money.

We had waited 40 minutes past our reservation time before being seated and now watched as everyone around us waited for service in various stages of their meals.  Two young waitresses darted back and forth throughout the restaurant trying to accommodate the crowd.

During the periodic visits by the staff, one of the waitresses finally offered to refill our drinks and as she lowered herself down to the table, she uttered an apology.  "I'm so sorry for the wait, guys.  As you can see, we're a bit...under handed."

She darted off quickly and I looked up to see a smile spread across D's face.  "Under handed. Haha."

Well, that certainly explained things in a different light alright.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Cheap Accommodations

On the coldest night of the year, my man and I decided to brave the brisk evening for some bar-be-que. Choosing Famous Dave's, we quickly made our way in, hunched over, braced against the cold.

We followed the hostess past two large, mostly empty rooms in to a back area filled with people.  As soon as we crossed the threshold, we were hit with a chill not unlike a meat locker.  As we are seated, I begin to realize that all the patrons in this back area are still jacketed and covered with scarves and hats. We sat.

When the waitress arrived, before putting in an order, I couldn't help but draw attention to the chilly atmosphere.  "Why is it so cold back here?"

"Oh, the heater is broken back here.  But we're working on it and there are space heaters placed throughout. "  She smiled sweetly, got our drink order and disappeared.

D and I exchanged looks.  When she came back with our drinks, I couldn't help but ask - "Why would you be seating people in an area that wasn't heated when the remaining part of the restaurant seems to be open and okay?"

"Oh," she began with a dismissive swipe of her hand.  "That's because the shifts haven't started for those areas up front."

My face went blank. Um...are you telling me, there lil' missy, that because the "assigned waitstaff" hasn't arrived yet, you can't seat people in those areas?  Seriously?  The current staff isn't capable of taking care of those tables in the interim?  I looked around at the bundled up patrons again before glancing back at her.

"I know, doesn't make sense, but the hostesses weren't informed."  She smiled brightly.

"You know, I'm freezing."  I admitted.  "Can you just bring me some hot chocolate?"

I sat on my hands, my jacket pulled tightly against me until she came back with a small steaming cup.  Setting it down, she smiled again at me.  "I spoke with the manager, and because of the situation we'd like to offer you free hot chocolate and as many refills as you like."

As she left, I looked at my man.  "So, what is that actually?  Like thirty-five cents?"