Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Redux: Parts of the Living Room & Dining Room

Just realized that I have not posted any of the before/during/after photos of working on The Bungalow. Since Slim and I have basically worked in every room, nook and cranny, there are lots of photos, inside and out. In order to not overwhelm my devoted readers (all tens of you), I will try to post room by room...starting with the living room.

This is what it looked like when I decided to purchase the house:

This is what it looked like after we had ripped up and removed all the carpet and had started priming the walls (a blooming mess):

And now:

(We have a book problem...anyone can see that. And that's just the fiction that will fit on the shelves. Nonfiction and poetry have their own places in the house...)

Things are nowhere near completion (boxes still seem to appear out of nowhere; we still have to stain, paint and recover furniture; the baseboards need to be lowered, shoe molding know, the usual stuff). But it is a start.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cyclocross Holy Trinity

We’ve had three Bamacross races so far this year. And at all three of these races we’ve met some really incredible athletes, and some really incredible supporters. See, it is usually the same people at all of the races, so you get used to setting up your “camp” area next to the same folks each week, and you know who’s competing in which category, and you know who to listen to for interesting cyclocross insults to shout in order to spur your rider on, and which children belong to which rider (and who to return them to, should they wander off). I’ve been lucky enough to be able to accompany Slim to all of these races, and we’ve made a point to try to make our race days as comfortable as possible with food and drink and small creature comforts to share with our friends. It has been great fun, and in a strange way I feel a bit maternal towards all these hardworking folk. After all, I can feed these people who are wonderfully hungry from their races, but not have to worry about finding a way to pay for them to go to college…

Today is the fourth race in the Bamacross series. It is at Sloss Furnace. This is the race at which Slim broke his wrist while warming up last year. It is a race that he is most determined to ride in. We’ve had a very busy week, what with ballet/yoga on Monday, voting and late working for Slim on Tuesday, Chairman’s Club Dinner Thursday, Slim’s auto tire shenanigans and late working on Friday, amazing Center for the Book/Book Arts in Tuscaloosa Saturday, and Alabama Ballet at Wallace Hall tonight. Slim has not had a day off this week, so he’s tired and a bit under the weather because I think I’ve given him my cold. And because I have so much to do to prepare for next week, and for the ballet tonight (it will take an act of God or congress to beautify my runny-eye-and-nosed mug), I am staying home. So, Slim is on the road to Sloss, to face his demons alone. Before he left, he touched the Richard Sachs broadside, the Jens Voigt broadside and the home altar. Oh, my. It’s like some cyclocross Holy Trinity…shall we pray? Yes, we shall.

To be continued…

Friday, October 22, 2010

Because they care...

I am now the proud owner of a Twin Six Fat Cyclist cycling jersey. AND it IS the proper size. It was almost NOT the proper size. Because sometimes I'm vain and think I'm smaller than I really am, and order too small of a size in garments. Which is what I did in the case of my pre-order/special-order-only 2010 Fat Cyclist jersey. I realized my mistake after I had already placed my pre/special order, and I emailed the guys at Twin Six Alternative Cycling Apparel in the hopes that they would take pity on me for a narcissitic (and possibly alcohol related) miscalculation on my part. They did. Because they are a fabulous company, and they know what customer service is. I highly recommend Twin Six for all your alternative cycling apparel needs.

For anyone who is interested, here is the exchange between me and Twin Six:

First, I want to thank all four of you folks who are the brains and brawn behind T6. Second, I want to thank you for the fantastic new jersey that I just received today (The Dotty, Half-Price Humpday). It is the first item that I have ever received from T6, and not only do I find the quality, fit and design to be top shelf, but I am also thrilled to find that the dots on The Dotty are not actual dots (which I was perfectly fine with), but skulls! I am new at cycling, am 5'1", and my road bike is one step above child-sized, therefore I do not have an intimidating road presence. Having found myself very concerned about the lack of stylish yet intimidating cycling jerseys for women, I am more than pleased that my The Dotty has skulls on it. Thank you very much for thinking of such important details as quality, fit, design and intimidation in your products.

Now, I mentioned that The Dotty was the first item that I have ever received from T6, but it is not my first purchase. On July 18th I pre-ordered my first jersey ever in the history of my ordering jerseys, the women's Fat Cyclist jersey, because my boyfriend and I are rather devoted followers of Fatty's blog. In the excitement of pre-ordering my Fat Cyclist jersey (or possibly because of the Gonzo Imperial Porter I was sipping on at the time), I accidentally ordered a small instead of a medium. Now, I know that it may be too late to change the size on my order, but I'm just taking the chance to inquire because I want to maximize my sexiness (and self-deprecation) by wearing a jersey that fits me. If it is too late to change the size of my jersey order from a small to a medium, then I will live with the consequences (and go on a fruit and water diet).

Many thanks and regards,

To which Michael Fischer responded:

Glad to have you as a fan! The Dotty is a fun kit. I'll make a note on
your order that you'd prefer a medium. Our order was placed based on what
all of you Fatty fans told us, so no promises, but I imagine we'll be able
to make the change.

I *heart* Twin Six...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Danse Macabre

Caveat: I am in no way responsible for the songs contained herein getting stuck in your brain. Enter at your own risk.

It all started this morning with the very catchy Grieg song In the Hall of the Mountain King. You see, it was in my head. And I couldn’t get it out of my head. Even Slim playing Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries at full tilt couldn’t dislodge it from the record player in my brain that was playing it over. I posted my conundrum to my Facebook profile and about two hours later found a response left by the lovely and talented ballet mistress Linze McRae. Her suggestion, “Add a little of Saint-Saens Danse Macabre and you'll be on your way!” Hmmm…although the name was terribly familiar, I couldn’t recall the melody (probably because In the Hall of the Mountain King was still stomping and stomping away in my attic). So I looked it up, and was delighted to find that Linze’s recommendation of Danse Macabre jarred all thoughts of Mountain King out of my head. And the Henri Cazalis poem upon which the Saint-Saens piece was based is just as delightful! Now, I have a rapidly swirling and crashing waltz stewing in my thoughts:

Zig, zig, zig, Death in cadence,
Striking with his heel a tomb,
Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,
Zig, zig, zig, on his violin.
The winter wind blows and the night is dark;
Moans are heard in the linden-trees.
Through the gloom, white skeletons pass,
Running and leaping in their shrouds.
Zig, zig, zig, each one is frisking.
The bones of the dancers are heard to crack-
But hist! of a sudden they quit the round,
They push forward, they fly; the cock has crowed.

Dance macabre (Dance of Death) by Henri Cazalis

Perfect for Halloween!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Looking Under My Boot-soles

Saw John’s mom in the library today. She told me that John’s killer only served a year and a day for what he did to John. People have served more time bringing chewing gum into Singapore than John’s killer served for shooting him with a crossbow. She told me about the letter that she wrote to the killer and to the judge, the letter that she read aloud that day of sentencing. There probably wasn’t a dry eye in the courtroom. I told her of the passage I had written about John only hours after she had told me of his death. It was a journal entry that I wrote while terribly upset, a journal entry that I had been unable to share with her these last two years because…well, I was afraid to. After all, he meant more to her than I’ll ever know…more than anyone will ever know. I finally printed a copy of the journal entry, along with Song 52 of Song of Myself from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and gave it to her. I put it in an envelope and asked her to read it at home. I couldn’t read it again. I don’t have to read it again…

Southern Vernacular

Having a book discussion here at the 'brary today. It is part of our Lunch 'n Learn series, as well as part of our Gadsden Reads. Boss Lady and I are leading a discussion called Ava’s Grandson: The Works of Rick Bragg. Since I had tried to write down all of the Southernisms Rick used in all three books, I thought it would be fun to have a Southern vernacular vocabulary discussion to break the ice at the beginning of the talk. I am proud to say that I have, at one time or another (and with complete sincerety), used all of these words and phrases.

Vocabulary Words:
Fat pine

Done eat…
Got run off…
Blind as a concrete block…
These got to do me…
Prayed into heaven…
A little piece off (just a little piece down the road)…
Be back d’rectly…

It is nice to see these words and phrases printed in New York Times best selling books. It lends them a legitimacy that they are not often afforded...

Friday, October 8, 2010

Quiet and Poetic Prose

I’ve been rereading some of Rick Bragg’s books lately because my boss lady and I are going to lead a discussion next week about his three most beloved titles: All Over But the Shoutin,’ Ava’s Man, and Prince of Frogtown.

Just finished off Ava’s Man last night for the second time. Near the end of the story, when Charlie’s death is within a stone’s throw of being upon him, Rick gives us an account of his grandfather’s last moments. They are moments that are beautifully recounted:

It was a fine walk. The trees and shrubs and crawling vines were in flower or already green, covering the gray bark that always looked so dead and hopeless in winter, and new grass covered a cow pasture not far from the house. Later, the night train would rumble across the Tredegar trestle, shaking the trees, stabbing the darkness with a lance of yellow light, but now there was just the dying sunlight, and the wind, rushing.

The men were passing a pasture gate when he just stopped, to get a breath. He looked around him, as if it was the first time he had seen anything like it, anything so fine, and fell onto the new grass.

I found the words so lovely, and so reminiscent of another favorite passage of mine, the closing of Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front:

He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.

He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.

If you read Bragg’s and Remarque’s passages together, you can almost envision them written for the same man.

One of these days, I’ll stop talking about Rick Bragg…but not just yet.

Listening to: Miles Davis’ Quiet Nights

The Trucker, Again

Dad has been feeling pretty good lately, and getting all A’s on his cardio exams. He still has a fib, but probably has had it all his life without knowing it. He just operates that way. If an ache or ailment doesn’t get him down enough to put him in the bed, then he doesn’t let it get him down, period. That’s a little scary, when you think about it, cause he had a heart attack once, and didn’t even realize it until the doctors told him six months later…it’s just the stock he comes from…

Daddy usually calls tomatoes da-matoes, which is real Southern of him. I suppose (or, I reckon) it would be even more Southern of him to call them da-maters, because so many hill folk put an er in the place of the e or a vowel ending.

As I was mowing mom and dad’s lawn last Saturday, Daddy came out to move the cars out of the way so that I could get closer to the garage. As I made a swipe near the driveway, he was walking along towards the back porch. He kept on walking, raised his hand to wave, and smiled real big at me. His smile reached all the way to his eyes, and for just a second, I caught a glimpse of the black-haired young trucker who held his little redhead in his arms one day long ago when the Goodyear Blimp came and touched down at our small local airport. His eyes are still as blue as they were that day…

Holding tight to the mower’s steering wheel with one hand, I raised the other to furiously wave back at him while I grinned like a fool. The good Lord is looking down on us in many ways. For one, He’s keeping an eye on my daddy. For two, He didn’t let me hit a hole in the yard and fall off the mower while I driving one-handed while waving at my Daddy. Daddy would’ve never let me use the riding mower again if that’d happened, no matter how cute he thought his little redhead was.

Listening to: Charlie Parker

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Memories from a good childhood.

Two thank you letters that I wrote and mailed recently:

To Mike Goodson,
I wanted to thank you for your GPL Lunch 'n Learn presentation last week! I was so inspired by your talk, I went right out Saturday afternoon with Eric and had my very first Magic Burger! Don’t think I would’ve done it if you hadn’t mentioned it alongside Runt’s. I already have fond memories of going to Runt’s with my daddy back when I was a little girl. It would just be me and him out doing what we liked to call runnin.’ We were supposed to be running errands, but we always got sidetracked with other stuff like burgers at Runts, and bingo at the VFW, Post 2760. Good times. Thanks for reminding us how fun Gadsden was, and still is!

To Dr. Evelyn Brannon (who happens to be the daughter of the dear lady from whom I bought The Bungalow recently),
I wanted to thank you for your GPL Lunch 'n Learn presentation on 50’s fashion yesterday! Your slides brought back memories of playing in my mom’s clothes as a child and of spending endless hours looking at photos of her as a child, adolescent and adult. I look back now at some of those photos of her as a young adult in her matching sweater set, long straight skirt and white socks with saddle oxfords, or as a beautiful bride in her smart ivory suit with gorgeous flocked handbag (which, luckily I have in my possession), and I think of how in those photos she represents the look of the decade…thank you for bringing back these memories for me!

Don'tcha just love memories that come bubbling up unexpectedly?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Interior Monologue...Not my own.

So, I totally dig stream of consciousness writing. No, seriously, I do. My number one favorite book, the book that I must have with me should I ever be stranded on a desert island, is Absalom Absalom by William Faulkner. And I’m not ashamed to say that Kerouac’s On the Road squeezes into my top ten favorite books. Most of my close friends know that about me, and it doesn’t bother them. Some of them even go so far as to email me the names of SOC books should they read one that they think I’ll like. I enjoy stream of consciousness writing because it is a writing style that, to me, is most like real day-to-day thought patterns (and, in some cases, speech patterns). I enjoy stream of consciousness literature so much, I chose to read and lecture on a stream of consciousness novel for my EN 500 class last fall. I picked, no surprises, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

Now, just a little bit about the book, in case you didn’t know (some of this is actually from my presentation and paper). The name The Sound and the Fury, taken from the somber Shakespearian play Macbeth, indicates to the reader that the novel is made up of things that clamor, that deafen, that savage, and that ultimately signify nothing. And indeed, from the first section of the book, a section that is narrated by an idiot, readers see that Faulkner’s characters are struggling in vain against each other, against changing societal mores, and against the hand that they have been dealt by God. They make victims and martyrs of themselves as they lash out unsuccessfully against those things and people whom they feel have done them wrong. Faulkner could have had his characters choose different paths, but had he done so, The Sound and the Fury would not be the Southern Gothic masterpiece that it is. In the end, the reader is left uneasy with the realness of the characters and the situations, especially those Southern readers. For who from the South doesn’t have relatives (dead or alive) who resemble one or more of the characters in The Sound and the Fury? Who from the South doesn’t have the same kind of disturbing family stories that, induced by a full belly and a glass of spirits, are told at Thanksgiving gatherings or reunions, long after the youngsters and the polite folk have gone to bed.

Why did the public find The Sound and the Fury a demanding and difficult book? Most likely it was because of Faulkner’s use of the stream of consciousness style, a style of writing first successfully employed by Irish writer James Joyce. Joyce had perfected the use of “interior monologue” in Ulysses by giving his characters long episodes of thought that were sometimes out of sequential order, and sometimes unpunctuated. The purpose of this technique was to allow readers key insight into the frame of mind of the characters. Interior monologue was very appealing to Faulkner for it gave him the freedom to put his character’s deepest and most hidden thoughts out in the open, thereby giving depth beyond the omniscient third-person voice. When Quentin loses control of his thoughts, Faulkner refrains from using punctuation and capitalization in order to emphasize Quentin’s internal monologue. Furthermore, this lack of punctuation and capitalization allows readers to recognize with greater certainty the slipping away of Quentin’s sanity and his rapid spiral towards suicide (Groden 265-266).

now we are getting at it you seem to regard it merely as an experience that will whiten your hair overnight so to speak without altering your appearance at all you wont do it under these conditions it will be a gamble and the strange thing is that man who is conceived by accident and whose every breath is a fresh cast with dice already loaded against him will not face that final main which he knows before hand he has assuredly to face without essaying expedients ranging all the way from violence to petty chicanery that would not deceive a child until someday in very disgust he risks everything on a single blind turn of a card (Faulkner, Sound 177).

The above passage has no commas to indicate pause, no apostrophes to indicate contractions, and no periods to indicate termination of thoughts. It is a fine and obvious example of the use of Joyce’s interior monologue. Throughout the years, Faulkner would repeatedly deny any conscious use of Joyce’s techniques, but he would never distance himself from the comparisons (Groden 264-266).

I’ve just finished another novel that has some lovely stream of consciousness passages, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. It is Anna’s thoughts that are stream of consciousness, especially when she is beginning to come unhinged, as she contemplates suicide. Part 7 or Chapter 28 (page 854 of the 1993 Modern Library Edition) begins with the line, “The weather was bright.” The weather is in direct contrast with Anna’s mood. Anna is distraught. She is a married woman, who has left her husband and son to live with her lover. Her lover, Count Vronsky, with whom she has had a daughter, has recently been exercising his independence of Anna. A trapped and anxious Anna has been turning more and more to the drug morphine as a form of escape. She is certain that Vronsky is seeing other women, and is soon to abandon her for someone else. She exhibits outward signs of defensiveness, but internalizes all of her real fears. She baits and tests her lover, and when he fails, she threatens him with, “You…you will be sorry for this.” Indeed, Vronsky will be sorry, but so will Anna.

On her way to find Vronsky (ah, if only they’d had cell phones then), Anna’s thoughts are racing:
"I entreat him to forgive me. I have given in to him. I have owned myself in fault. What for? Can't I live without him?" And leaving unanswered the question how she was going to live without him, she fell to reading the signs on the shops. "Office and warehouse. Dental surgeon. Yes, I'll tell Dolly all about it. She doesn't like Vronsky. I shall be sick and ashamed, but I'll tell her. She loves me, and I'll follow her advice. I won't give in to him; I won't let him train me as he pleases. Filippov…They say they send their dough to Petersburg. The Moscow water is so good for it. Ah, the springs at Mitishtchen, and the pancakes!" And she remembered how, long, long ago, when she was a girl of seventeen, she had gone with her aunt to Troitsa. "Riding, too. Was that really me, with red hands? How much that seemed to me then splendid and out of reach has become worthless, while what I had then has gone out of my reach forever! Could I ever have believed then that I could come to such humiliation? How conceited and self-satisfied he will be when he gets my note! But I will show him.... How horrid that paint smells! Why is it they're always painting and building? Modes et robes," she read. A man bowed to her. It was Annushka's husband. "Our parasites"; she remembered how Vronsky had said that. "Our? Why our? What's so awful is that one can't tear up the past by its roots. One can't tear it out, but one can hide one's memory of it. And I'll hide it." And then she thought of her past with Alexey Alexandrovitch, of how she had blotted the memory of it out of her life. "Dolly will think I'm leaving my second husband, and so I certainly must be in the wrong. As if I cared to be right! I can't help it!" she said, and she wanted to cry. But at once she fell to wondering what those two girls could be smiling about. "Love, most likely. They don't know how dreary it is, how low.... The boulevard and the children. Three boys running, playing at horses. Seryozha! And I'm losing everything and not getting him back. Yes, I'm losing everything, if he doesn't return. Perhaps he was late for the train and has come back by now. Longing for humiliation again!" she said to herself. "No, I'll go to Dolly, and say straight out to her, I'm unhappy, I deserve this, I'm to blame, but still I'm unhappy, help me. These horses, this carriage--how loathsome I am to myself in this carriage--all his; but I won't see them again."

No, indeed, she won’t see them again…

Saturday, September 11, 2010

They Grow 'em Big In Calhoun County...

Met up with Rick Bragg last Friday. He was in town for our Gadsden Reads kickoff. We’re reading his book Prince of Frogtown, and we’ve gone about as crazy for his book as we did four years ago for Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish. Actually, we’ve gone crazier. You see, Rick is a local boy who done good. Came from tough Calhoun County stock (our neighboring county), went to college at Jacksonville State University (where I matriculated for my undergrad…Go, Gamecocks!), worked his way up through the newspaper world and became a New York Times best selling author…many times over. Oh, and I forgot to mention that he won this prize called the Pulitzer. That’s a big one, right? Just kiddin!’ Hah!

Anyway, the Gadsden Reads Committee picked Rick’s book The Prince of Frogtown because it was a book that spoke to our community, to the heart of our town. In Prince of Frogtown, Rick introduced us readers to his daddy, a charming, hard drinking, hard living man who grew up in the mill village of Jacksonville, AL. This was the same Daddy who, in All Over But the Shoutin’ ran out on his wife and kids, little Rick being one of those kids; a man we (and Rick), at times, didn’t trust. There's a whole lot more to the book than just Rick's daddy, but I think you should read the book rather than let me tell you about it.

So why did the book speak to us? In one word:
Gadsden’s got a mill village, and our mayor, Sherman Guyton, came from over there. So did brother and sister Mike Goodson and Glenda Byars, and a host of other interesting characters. Mill villages are about the same all over. There’s good, and there’s bad in each one, depending upon whom you talk to. Some folks, like Glenda, remember their mill village of the 50s as a real sweet and innocent place, a place of starched crinolines, poodle skirts, surreptitious hand-holding with your sweetheart, Magic Burgers with malt shakes, and the Del-Vikings singin’ Come Go With Me. A place you’d never want to leave. Other folks remember their mill village in a less than innocent light. For them, their mill village was probably more like a place of tough and unhealthy work, practically owing your life to the mill, scraping and saving to have a (drink) life. I’d imagine that when they turned on the radio, they’d listen to songs like Hank Williams’ (big daddy, not junior) Your Cheatin’ Heart or Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line. I suspect that they’d be looking for the closest exit out of their mill village…

Everybody there Friday night at the event was connected to Rick in some shape or form, or at least in their minds they were. “I used to live down the street from his momma.” “We went to the same high school…” “I used to pump gas for him…” I heard so many different stories as I made my way through the crowd, talking to folks, welcoming them, thanking them for being there. Everybody was real down home and friendly, just like Rick. I knew quite a few of them from the library. The others I didn’t know, but I can safely say that I know them now. That’s just the kind of night it was. Strangers huggin’ strangers, and folks makin’ friends.

Rick inspires familiarity, accessibility. Rick is of the people. He’s not a stuffy academic. But he sure as heck teaches Creative Writing at the University of Alabama. Rick’s got the stuff that writers, especially Southern ones, will go to the crossroads at midnight to bargain with the devil for. I know this for a fact. I’m not talking out of school when I say that I’ve personally watched at least one writer up close as they tried real hard to capture just that stuff. They got real close, maybe even finalized their own transaction with the devil (I didn’t stick around to find out, but I have my suspicions). But it’s not all about the fluff of barbecue sauce, preaching on the mount and the Civil War. I feel that you’ve either got it or you don’t. You can work at it as if it were a job, and hone that edge, but you can’t fake being a part of that public of which you write, especially the part of that public you call your people. Those people can smell insincerity and falseness like they can smell a pole-cat under the house. And when they’re done with you, they’re done. It’s true. You all know it is…you seen it before…

My daddy was at the event Friday night, sitting in his folding chair, eating a free Chick-fil-a sandwich, having a coke (translation: soda of some sort), and waiting for Rick to show up. Dad’s read more of Rick’s books than I have. He thinks a lot of him. I have my suspicions that they may be cut from the same cloth. About the time Dad finished eating his sandwich and I had begun eating mine, I noticed a discernible change in the atmosphere. That could only mean one thing. My eyes scanned the crowd and, yes sir, there was the man himself. I leaned down to Dad and said, “He’s here.” Dad held real still like a hunter not wanting to scare a deer away and asked, “Who?” “Rick,” I replyed. “Where?” Dad’s eyes squinted a bit as he looked off through the throng of people. I leaned in further, “He’s that big fella over there with beige shirt, directly in front of you, but across the way.” Dad spotted the man of whom I spoke. “Him? He’s too big. You sure that’s him?” “Yep. Dad, he’s a farm boy. You know they grow ‘em big in Calhoun County.” “Well, I never thought he’d be that big.” We just watched as Rick ran a hand through his loose hair before folks started coming up to welcome him. He was on. He made his way to the gazebo to address the crowd…

Later, after Rick had spoken for about five minutes at the mic before turning it back over to our favorite blue grass band Foggy Hollow (which, for the evening, was called Froggy Hollow), Dad was packing up his folding chair and readying to go home. Rick was trying to seat himself at the table we had set up for him, and a hundred or more people were trying their hardest to NOT form a line in front of him. They wanted time with Rick, and by God they were going to get it, one way or the other. Rick knew that, that’s why he kept it short and sweet at the gazebo. He knew that he would give personal time to each and every person there that evening. And that’s exactly what he did. I can’t tell you how many hours the man spent there on that folding chair, smiling, talking, listening and signing, but it was nightfall before he got up to head out.

We had packed up all the tables, given away all the free Chick-fil-a sandwiches, and were just killing time near the courthouse when I saw Rick walking towards his car. He didn’t notice as I observed him. He looked beat and ready to go. I slipped away towards him with my right hand outstretched to thank him. The minute he saw me, he perked back up, and took my hand. He was back on. “How ya holdin’ up?” I queried. Realizing who I was, he shook my hand and then shook his head, “I’m wore slap out.” He was the real Rick. “You stayin’ in town, or are you headed somewhere tonight?” I asked. “Headed to Mobile, but just gonna try to get to Montgomery.” We chatted a bit more about traveling as we headed towards Bobby, who was trying to fit fifty-leven Chick-fil-a warming bags into his vehicle. It was time to say goodbye.

While we were standing there shooting the breeze, Bobby mentioned the fact that there had been a personal biographer there in the crowd, a fellow with a video camera trained on Rick at almost all times. Rick responded with an incredulous, “Yeah! They took a look at me a couple of years ago and said, ‘He don’t look so good!’ They musta been thinking ‘He’s gonna die soon, so we’d better start recording something now…’” Rick just half snorted and shook his head. About that time a slew of Rick’s cousins came walking out of the trees. The leader was a long-legged brunette beauty. She was followed by a thin, tough-looking fellow, and they were followed by what looked to be a passel of kids, all of them boys. One boy, an especially solid looking one, puffed up his chest at the others, looking to challenge them to a fight, or something. He was so cute and fierce looking, taking a stand like that, I started laughing at him. A long-legged older woman, probably the long-legged brunette’s momma, came walking up with a pack of cigarettes in one hand, a lighter in the other. She noticed me watching the little ones, the one in particular. “What’d he do?” she half-jokingly demanded (sounded like she’d had to say that on many occasions before). “Aw, he just come up so tough, like he was gonna clean house,” is all I said. “Yeah, he’d do that,” she affirmed. We stood around for a bit longer, listening to the cousins talking, then called it a night. Last I saw of Rick, he was standing there next to the parking lot, family gathered around him, a loving but tired king, holding court.

Speaking of frogs (isn’t that what we were really talking about?). We’ve got more frogs than you could shake a stick at around here at The Bungalow. Lots of little ones, small green tree frogs, and even smaller mottled brown original recipe frogs. I saw one the other day while I was digging in the pet cemetery. It was no bigger than the nail on my little finger. And while I was watering the sun-burned hydrangea (which is coming back, I may add), I spied a tiny little frog napping in the curl of a new leaf. He was as green as a Granny Smith Apple, and as unconcerned about big ole’ me as could be. I like the little guys. They are nice company. And they were certainly here before Slim and I, so I feel that they have the right of way. There are two of them on the back deck right now…one under the dusty blue aardvark, and one clinging to the edge of the bistro table…

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


It is Wednesday, the 19th of May. I am sitting in the quietude of the living room of The Bungalow, listening to the faint sounds of the myriad of birds, stretching their wings and warming up their vocal chords to serenade the neighborhood this morning. I cannot describe how lovely it is here on this dead-end street, perched above the bird sanctuary. And I cannot help but compare our 10th Street houses, full to the gills with kind and interesting people (and on a sunny, warm day, streets filled with flocks of playful children) to the homes of those avian counterparts out there somewhere in those kudzu-covered trees at the end of our street…we all line our nests as comfortably as we are able to, and bring food to share with our loved ones.

The Bungalow…we can’t seem to come up with any name other than that…we’ve hoped that something poetic or literary like The Whitman or Twelve Oaks (or, in this case, Two Pines) would reveal itself to us as a name for this place, but all that keeps coming out of our mouths is The Bungalow. So, knowing that places often name themselves, and also knowing that bungalow is as bungalow does, I think that The Bungalow is The Bungalow. I could be wrong about this, so we won’t be ordering up a shingle for the front porch, but I have a distinct feeling in my gut that The Bungalow has spoken…

Work is progressing on The Bungalow, and the Newton ‘plex is completely vacated now. The Bungalow living room (or front parlor if William Faulkner were writing about this entry) is painted, with furniture more or less placed. And the dining room is painted…yet still filled with boxes waiting to be unpacked or placed in other (unfinished) rooms. I am beginning to think that the boxes are getting randy every night when the lights are off, creating a population explosion of the corrugated kind. It is out of hand, I must say, but something that has to be lived with as we make progress in other parts of the house. The dining room will remain the holding room until further notice.

Slim and I took a break from work (he from his job, me from the house as I had taken a week of vacation to supposedly whip things into shape) this past Friday and headed North a piece to the mountains of Mentone. I am ashamed to admit that I have never been to Mentone before, but Kansas Slim had photographed the area on a couple of occasions, and some church friends had offered their cabin on the brow to him for the weekend. It was Rhododendron Festival time, so I envisioned masses of sweaty tourists filling the rhododendron-lined streets, snapping photos and jostling about. But no, that was not to be. Nothing turned out to be what I imagined it would be. Mentone during the Rhododendron Festival is rather sweet and not over-filled with anything, tourist or rhododendron. Slim’s friends forewarned us that Mentone during the Rhododendron Festival would be low-key, and they were very much correct on that description. But their “cabin on the brow” remark turned out to be an understatement. The cabin is actually a picturesque little mountain home with two bathrooms, a full kitchen with small dining area, a sleeping porch, an attic, and Direct TV. There is a divine screened-in porch off the living room, sporting another quaint dining area and a seating area of what amounts to be a herd of rocking chairs (Slim couldn’t help but query about a long-tailed cat). The property, which indeed stretches along the brow of the mountain, is home to not just the one cabin, but also serves as home to a rather large manor-like house (being built by the brother-in-law of the owner), a stone apple house, a tractor shed, and a third vacant house that serves as storage (and was purchased in order to obtain the stone apple house). Essentially, the cabin we stayed in was a small part of a rather large family compound…and we didn’t “rough it” at all out there in the woods. As a matter of fact, we had a splendid time relaxing away from the moving boxes and paint cans and lists of things to be done. We dined on steaks and salad, and desserted on a shared Napoleon. After dinner, we explored the compound, walking off our meal. Sleep came early and hard, the cool mountain air running me under the covers, the memory of a hard week of moving left behind, slipping away with the breeze.

Morning dawned, and brought with it a severe hunger for some vittles. The only eatery that I had ever heard of in Mentone was the Southern-Living-recommended Wildflower CafĂ©. Slim, who had dined there before, recalled the food being decent, but nothing to write home about. I found it to be about what we could cook up in our own kitchen on a lazy day (which would be healthy and tasty), but even better because we didn’t have to do it ourselves, and it was served in an interesting flower-child-like environment. When we arrived, a bluegrass band was warming up on the side porch, and the wait staff were all either sporting straw cowboy hats, or trying to decide whether or not to sport a straw cowboy hat for the day. Everyone seemed real friendly, staff and customers alike, and when a rather large and healthy dragonfly flew across our table and flung itself at one of the windows across the room trying to find a safe passage out into the cool shadows of the porch, Slim and I asked the customer who was sitting there if she would mind us raising the window for a moment to see if the big guy would fly out. She very helpfully agreed, and Slim strong-armed the window up. The dragonfly floated out (I imagined for a moment that it looked back at us over its shoulder and waved goodbye, but dragonflies don’t have shoulders, nor do they have hands with which to wave). I’ll have you know that Slim lost absolutely no man card points that day for letting a trapped dragonfly out of a window in a room full of women. Admiring eyes from every direction affirmed this notion, making my little ‘ole heart go pitter-patter at his chivalry. I rather proudly sat back down across from him and smiled the whole time as I waited on my Mediterranean Wrap…

And while I waited on that wrap, the kitchen staff were having one heck of a good time in the back, so much so that one of the waitresses had to go up to the “order up” window and yell back at them, “No sandwich profanity in the public area!” Now I’m no sailor, but I don’t think I’d mind sandwich profanity at all, so I was real disappointed to hear her order them to stop whatever it was that they were saying that may have offended HER ears. Personally, I’ve never heard sandwich profanity, and I felt it was a darn shame that here was a woman taking it upon herself to stop me from hearing it while I finally had the chance! I grumbled on the inside a bit, and never did hear anything said at all that could’ve been construed as profanity that morning, sandwich or otherwise. And to think that with all the schooling I’ve received, I’ve remained so uneducated. We returned to Gadsden later with me a whole lot rested, but just a little short on worldly knowledge of certain culinary cursing…

The other day I mailed my first letter. The mailbox on The Bungalow is made of iron, and is fashioned to resemble what I believe to be an old pony express bag, complete with “leather flap top and buckled straps.” Not knowing the protocol for sending mail from this Bessemered pony express bag, I clipped my outgoing mail to the front of the box with a sturdy clothespin (left there by Miss Mildred, who I assumed sent her outgoing mail in the same fashion). I did not realize at the time, but I had propped the top of the mailbox with the clothespin, leaving about a two-inch gap open. Early the next day, when I stepped out to sweep the porch, I noticed that my outgoing mail was gone, but that the clothespin was still propping open the mailbox. As I unclipped the pin, I saw moss and pecan tree schmutz sticking out from the bottom of the box. Stretching on tip-toe, I peered down into the box to spy the beginnings of a very soft nest for some animal-or-bird-sort of creature (one that, like me, enjoys a comfy bed). Indeed, we line our nests as comfortably as we are able to…

Listening to: Miles Davis.
Eating: The sweetest corn on the cob, ever (I say that every time I have the first corn of the season)!
Reading: Just finished Columbine by Cullen. It did me in. I waited a couple of years to read this for a reason. When I lived in Denver and was employed by JEFFCO, I worked with just enough high-risk teens from that school to know it would hit too close to home. It did. Saving my reading for the Russian Book Club now…ahhhh…(read with a Russian accent) The summer of the Russians...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Historic District Adjacent

Well, because I didn’t think finishing up grad school was enough work, I decided last month that I was going to buy a house, too. What I set my sights on was an 80 year-old Craftsman Bungalow located in an old, yet “up and coming” part of downtown Gadsden. “Up and coming” is code for a “mixed” or “diverse” neighborhood. Not the kind of neighborhood that most white Southerners driving through would stop and say, “Wow, I like the looks of that street!” As a matter of fact, it is the kind of street that honestly does have a “wrong side,” or at least a wrong section. What I mean by that is this: 10th Street is bisected and chopped up in a number of places by different streets throughout the downtown area. The particular side of 10th on which I bought, is a section bisected by Randall (Randall is the street that leads me to a number of my favorite people and places); it is the southern dead-end tail of South 10th Street. And although there are decoy houses at the beginning of our street (houses in ill-repair that make people think our street isn’t that fabulous), evidently this section of 10th is the good section; the bad section of 10th is a tiny bit farther North, and is…well, according to some folks around here, not as good, I suppose. Because I have friends who live on the not-so-good part of 10th, I won’t speak real ill of it. And I won’t speak real ill of it because I really never figured out what made it not-so-good.

Now, our part of So. 10th is really quiet. Our neighbors are a mix of young and old, singles and marrieds, blacks and whites, furred and feathered. This is a neighborhood where children play, dogs bark and people tend their yards. Folks stop by (as evidenced last night when across-the-street neighbors Janice and Nathan walked over to introduce themselves), and birds fly overhead regularly on their way to the bird sanctuary, which is a stone’s throw (a very steep stone’s throw) from the house. Not all of our neighbors are alive. There is an old cemetery in the woods somewhere a bit east of the dead end, and there is the beloved feline of the previous owner, Ms.Vinson who is buried in the backyard of our place. At the closing yesterday, Ms. Vinson’s daughter told me to be mindful if I do any gardening out back; they were not able to bury the old girl very deep. That is a piece of information I will heed. I feel it proper to honor the dead, whether it is two-legged or four.

The house was built in 1929, and is all-brick construction. There is a rather pastoral-looking full brick garage behind the house that is impossible in which to get a car, and a large fenced-in back yard that slopes away from the house (according to Ms. Brannon, Ms. Vinson’s daughter, the back yard was a peach orchard at one time). My two favorite features are the schmancy porte cochere, and the deep dark porch. I’ve been on that porch many times now, at different times of the day, and I have ALWAYS felt a cross breeze. Ms. Vinson rhapsodized yesterday about how when Mr. Brannon (Ms. Vinson’s first husband) was house hunting for the two of them, she never even saw the inside of the house before she agreed with her husband to buy the place. Evidently, while Mr. Brannon was looking at the inside of the house, she was sitting on the porch falling in love with the cross breeze. What Ms. Vinson (then Brannon) did not see until later were the living room, dining room, three-bedrooms (the third is small enough that one questions its distinction as a room), one bathroom boasting a jade green tub that looks like a spearmint throat lozenge, an efficient galley kitchen, mud room (which would’ve been a porch then), and spacious basement. The narrow plank oak hardwood floors, currently covered in carpet (but not for long), would have been exposed, and the plaster walls & ceiling, concealed by paneling and ceiling tile at the moment, would’ve been in their Craftsman glory. The yard is exploding with flora: hydrangeas, azaleas, nandinas, money plant, ivy, fig, forsythia, sweet shrub, and shamrock. There are two pecan trees in the back yard, and two enormous pine trees gobbling up the sidewalk and obscuring the front of the house (they will have to go, and be replaced with trees more suitable to the size and architecture of the house). Ms. Vinson must’ve become quite the gardener during her 53 years there. Slim and I will take up where she left off…

Listening to Parachutes by Coldplay and eating a good deal of fast food, which I will put a stop to once I finish up my class work in the next two weeks. Graduation is at the beginning of May. I will not be walking in the ceremony. More on that later. And yes, I really do mean that I will be posting to my blog more often. I’m surprised that my posting of this blog didn’t shut the whole innernets down…