Saturday, April 10, 2010

Your Big Head Don't Make You King

Last night at the restaurant, a relatively well known local musician played. This is not uncommon, we have live music now four nights out of seven. This particular man is someone I've heard stories about for a while and his name was known to me but I'd never had the, ahem, pleasure of seeing him perform.
Here's the thing about musicians. My Daddy is a musician. Not Daddy Glen, of course, but my biological father. Padre is a guitar player and a damn fine guitar player, probably the best I've ever seen close up and personal. I grew up in houses filled with music, with musicians and late night jam sessions. Dancing in the living room, dancing barefoot in the dirt, dancing with my Mama and dogs and crazy-eyed wild men who drove their women crazy but who could make sweet sounds with those bad boy hands. Men and women who sang, men and women who may not be able to make rent but who always had instruments, even if the amps blew, even if the speakers buzzed. Rock and roll jingle jangle was the lullaby of my childhood and I still feel safe and sleepy at live shows.
When you grow up with musicians you don't revere them. You may adore them, you may love them to pieces, you may need them to complete you, but that sort of otherness reverence is reserved for talent a little less familiar. I need my Mama to make me black eyed peas and collard greens, I need my Daddy to play Do Right Woman. To quote Michelle, "Same same."
So when I'm faced with a musician who glad hands gregariously and postures shamelessly and looks at the air above my head and says a bunch of nothing words that mean, "You think I'm great. I think I'm great too." I feel nothing but exasperation. Shut up and play the damn music already. Make me want to dance, that's all I ask.
This man last night was one of those. I understand how it happens, I do. He is loved and he has a certain bellowing charm, and it takes a lot of balls and attitude to get yourself up there and on stage and rock the house. It's protection and projection and without it I don't know if you can survive that particular lifestyle. But really....
Before he went on I introduced myself because I know he knows my family, and has shared bills with our Fairy Godparents Lon and Lis. I told him I was Mary Moon's daughter and he knew right off which clan I come from. His eyes lit up and said "So Jessie is your sister!" and then proceeded to tell me that he's going to buy her a drink in a couple of weeks for her 21st birthday, and that men will be lining up to buy my girl a drink. I looked at him squinty eyed but had to agree, my girl is a beautiful angel and that's just the plain truth. Then he asked me if I played music and I said no, but that my Daddy, Jerry Thigpen is a guitar player..... and he cut me off. "Ah, so Jessie is your half sister." He said it with his voice bent down and final, like he knew what time it was.
Let me just say that nothing makes my blood boil more than the words "half sister" in relation to the sisters mine. When I was in grade school I knocked a girl down for saying those words that very same way. It's been a long time since grade school, but babies, I am not afraid to knock a bitch down. Any day can be bitch-knocking day as far as I am concerned. There are no halves in my family, no steps, no halves, no partways or sideways or sometimes or maybes. Who claims this family? I do, now get the fuck out of my way.
He got back on stage and growled and shouted through his set, and I hustled and served and bussed and leaned in close to hear my orders. My feet were fleet, my spine was straight, I picked 'em up and knocked 'em down. The crowd was into it and happy, buying beers and singing along. But no one danced. No one danced and the man on stage did not make eye contact and for me it was all just background noise. It was over for me as soon as he cut his eyes away and cut off my words. I feel sorry for a man who thinks that the blood in your body is more important than the bodies in your blood. #1) Sleazy. #2) Self important. #3) Didn't make me dance. Music? Fail. I do believe I will ask off next time that man is scheduled to play.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


I did not want to see anyone I knew this morning, and so I took the back roads on my walk to the cigarette store. On my way I saw Sue, who is a dear, but talks so fast and must catch up on family and howareyou and whatareyoudoingthesedays. On my way home I ran into Dirty, and shit fire it was good to see that boy for all that he is clean these days and soon to go overseas.
While I did my laundry I kept my head down and my earphones on and talked a while with my landlord who was walking by.
On my way to work I ran into Miriam, sweet Miriam who is doing so well.
Work was busy because it was a live music night and don't you know I knew the singer, I think she slept with my dad once and we did not speak but she knew who I was.
And Dave walked in and Allyson, who is now a blond bombshell and we say "Oh it has been so long!" and they ask "Where have you been?". And again, after work who but Big E who wants to know where I've been. And I say, "I've been around, I don't get out much anymore."
At work I say, "Tangled Up in Blue" is the only Bob Dylan song I don't like." and Owen says, "Why? Why don't you like it? Is it because of J-?" because he knew me when and I hold up one hand like a stop sign and I say, "We do not speak of J-." and I walk back out of the kitchen and into the dining room to say hello to some regulars who just walked through the door. "What is wrong?" They ask. And then they introduce me to their friend who I already know through Ezzie whom we agree is a magnificent woman.
Can't I just not like a song?

Here is the sweetest thing: Two weeks ago I was so far away that I could walk down the street and not know anyone at all.
Here is a funny thing: When I am home, in my hometown, everyone I meet is nice and asks about my life and my family and they smile and they look into my eyes and I feel so desperately self conscious and exposed, so naked and raw, that no matter how nice they are I want to hide. Everywhere I go I see these very nice people, and I do not know why but it makes me feel scrubby and small. And so that is what I think I am.
When I went on my trip to see my friend Ezra (not his real name) it was not what either of us expected. I have known Ezra since before my youngest sister was born, and she was born when I was eleven so perhaps I was nine or ten, I don't remember. Ezra and his family lived in an Airstream trailer pulled by a (help me out here, Mama) '56 (?) Belle Aire (God what a pretty car, it looked like a rocket on the inside). They traveled the country while his daddy played the blues and his Mama taught the kids and once a year they would park in our driveway and Hank and I would get to stay home from school just to play. It was marvelous.
As kids we would put on shows for our parents and play truth or dare and roam the neighborhood and those boys (Ezra is one year older than me, his brother one year younger) were not like the kids at school, they were more like us. They had Imagination, and we could get them caught up in our worlds. Behind every fence there is a forest and that is where the children go. But then we grew up. Sort of.
Ezra and I kept in touch through letters. So many letters sent to Wyoming, to New Orleans, to Washington. Sometimes we were sweethearts, most of the time we just were, we had no name for this friendship that stayed mostly on a page. We talked on the phone, usually late at night. I've fallen asleep talking to him, but he never seemed to mind. It's always been earlier wherever he is. We kept in touch through boyfriends, through girlfriends, through heartbreak and marriage, through divorce and broken bones and babies born. He has two, aged eleven and seven. The last time I saw him was a long long time ago and so, when he offered to spot me a plane ticket, I packed my bags.
The family talked, afraid I would not come back. We aren't like that, I said. Mmmm hmmm, they said. But how do you explain a relationship spread out so long?
I am different now. I am not the girl who got in her truck at age nineteen and set out across the country. I am not the girl who went to Ghana and planted trees, or the girl who went to Paris and learned how to walk. I am not so free and easy, I am heavy, I just am. And I was afraid of that. It's one thing to talk on the phone and email and laugh and tell a million jokes and another to be face to face with your imaginary friend. I was afraid he would see how old I am now. I was afraid we'd run out of things to say. I was looking at myself through my hometown eyes.
It's a funny thing to see a childhood friend all grown up. He still looks the same in his smile and his eyes. He is famous in his town, and everywhere we went people knew him. He is the proprietor of a store and co-owner of an art gallery.


I hadn't been on a plane in so long, I didn't know how to do it. I watched the people in front of me take off their shoes and coats and put everything in bins to be x-rayed, and I followed suit, but when I asked if I needed to take my sweater off they laughed at me and told me that they'd let me keep my top on. I blushed at their belief in my stupidity (I was wearing a shirt under my sweater) and stood dumb as a cow in sock feet while they checked my shoes for explosives. "What if I had just walked through a fireworks warehouse?" I asked. "That could be a problem." they said. Note to self: Do not fly around the fourth of July.
I was afraid that I would be afraid of falling, afraid of crowds, afraid of birds flying into the engines or errant turbulence slapping my head into the ceiling and later causing death, but I wasn't. Alone at the top of a very high thing and I am terrified, trapped in a large metal tube hurdling through the air- no problem. I tried to sleep without drooling on myself.
I had some idea that I would freshen up once the plane got close to Seattle, so that when I saw Ezra for the first time I would look as good as I could under the circumstances. That plan was amended to "Eat a Mint" because there is no freshening in an airplane toilet, I would've had to stand in the aisle sideways to brush my hair, and for that I would've had to stand on a baby because there were so many babies on the plane. I will not stand on a baby to brush my hair.
I got off the plane and took the tram and barreled up the stairs and walked out into the sea of airport proper and turned around and there was Ezra. He had tried to hide, but couldn't once he saw me. The waters parted, I dropped my bags, and he snatched me up.
I felt so shy I couldn't look at him full on, I had to look at him in sideways bits and bites. He looked the same, he looked just fine, he looked like my friend, he grinned like a fool and after we picked up my luggage and got in his van we felt like we'd gotten away with something and no one was the wiser.
It took me three days to believe in the reality of him, it took three more to believe in his reality of me, and by that time I was home.
Every day I would wake up early and walk to get coffee and write, and then sneak back in to wake his sleepy self up and we'd go rambling. We went to the shore to look at horrible popping seastars and found a barnacle that looked like a tooth and stuck it in our mouths and said Golleeee and later I broke it. We went to breakfast with his friends and I ate blood oranges and offered to show them my breasts and was flattered by their silence. We went to an opening at his gallery and I got to meet the woman who is his partner and his best friend there and she is beautiful and makes beautiful art, she is a real artist and she has gorgeous eyes and sees gorgeous things with those eyes and puts those things, those luminescent things on giant canvases for everyone to see the gorgeous things in her eyes. We went to little towns and he is famous even there and we met the illusive Anacordes Mustache Bandit. We went to a military forte and discovered the tiny driftwood houses on the other side and we crawled into them like children and had adult conversations inside.
This friend, this friend, this friend took my awkwardness and my anxieties and was kind. He is my go-to man and whatever I wanted to do we did and whatever I needed he gave and whatever I was excited about he let me babble on, no matter how little he cared about that thing he just watched me with his whole face.
It wasn't easy for me. Here at home I try to be invisible and I can't be because everywhere I go I run into people I have known my whole life. There, with Ezra, I was invisible to the crowds and the seals and the waitresses (you should see how they look at him) but observed so closely by him I felt highlighted. I am a watcher too and I watched to memorize the way he picked up a rock or brushed his teeth or put on his hat or turned his head. I watched the way he looked at me, and the way he looked at everyone else.
How do you describe a friend, and why you like them? He is kind to strangers and tells good jokes. He has strong hands. He appreciates a good mustache. He will eat what I cannot finish. He loves his children. He wants everyone to have a good time and makes it so. He is not bothered by small things. He is very very patient, perhaps to a fault.
He took me to Seattle again toward the end of my stay and I found that I love Seattle. I love the colors and the people. We toured the underground and learned that Seattle's history is based on terrible plumbing, prostitution, and crooked merchants. We ate salmon every day and don't you know that made me happy? Every where we went he knew how to get along and so all I had to do was keep my eyes open and follow. At night in Seattle you can walk to the water and the factories look like stars.
In the end I came home, like I said I would. The Pacific Northwest has an energy like a mist blanket that settles around you and calms and quiets. It is a lulling thing and comfortable, but it is not my home.
Honeyluna took care of my house and cat while I was gone. When I got back it was cleaner than I left it and the bad cat was sweet and well behaved. She left me the sweetest notes telling me what she did while I was gone and how much she loves me. Sometimes I am just shocked by how altogether amazing that girl is.
I don't know, my friends. I'm glad to be home but I don't like my job and I feel that strange irritation of having been quiet and still for too long. A trip can mix things up and confuse things, it can make your life look different. It isn't that I want to be there, but here isn't any great shakes either. (And by here I don't mean Tallahassee per se, I mean what I've done with the place.) I tell myself I need to write more, but the words don't come, I think I should go out but I get so sleepy. In trying to be good, I do nothing at all. I read a thousand books. I have a bad attitude at work. I draw pictures of a table set, and do not color in the flowers. I will figure out the next right thing, it just takes me a very long time to do so. I have to put it in the back of my mind and pretend I'm not looking at it directly. And in the meantime this is life.
The thing is, I guess, that we can do anything, but we are bound by the constraints of what we want to do and what we feel comfortable with and what we can live with ourselves with if we do the things and so therefore we really can't do anything. But that which we can do is proabably a lot bigger than we give ourselves credit for. It's a matter of perspective. And it's no good trying to see ourselves through other people's eyes because that is always changing and to really understand we'd have to have their brains as well. So somehow, I've got to clear away the layers of desire to please and the neediness, and what I think I should do based on what I think is expected of me, and find that place inside that has wishes and dreams and let that air out. If I can. I do believe that a heart ignored is what causes bitterness and disatisfaction.
I am thankful for my friend for taking me away from my comfort zone. For making me laugh and showing me things. For waking me and shaking me, and getting me to open my eyes.