Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ghost(s) in the Machine

As a Southerner of a certain age - a comfortable place between 30 and 60-somethin' - I am accustomed to death, tragedy, and very efficiently turning funerals into family reunions, since all the same players are involved. And we eat fried chicken and watermelon on both occasions.

I was not aware we had a Gladys in the family, but then I was not aware we had an Aurelius in the family either, until he was in the family plot. Aurelius died a year or so ago, and the very long funeral in the very small church with the choir consisting of three very large black women marked the last time all the surviving Hardemans (and our kin) were in the same county, bathed, and dressed up. There is a long line of country in my adopted blood.

the Old Black Man just opened my door to inform me that Gladys, whom he thinks I should remember because I met her briefly, when I was 2, is dead. She attended Aurelius' funeral and was "the old woman hunched over sitting at the back ..." Given that Gladys was "just over a hundred years old" I am somehow not surprised.

Neither my father or my cousin will attend the funeral this Saturday, in Luling - our family seat. I suppose it is the thing about being a certain age that one gets my invitations to funerals than parties - though again, the line tends to blur at this stage. Another relation graduates from high school this weekend, which is still a big deal in my family ... but which we not be attending either.

It occurs to me, given that the Old Black Man is the last of his line, and given that all of his brothers and sisters who preceded him to the great hereafter were in their 90s or so, that my father probably has a good decade left in him. I've noted before that he cannot seem to quite get when things stop working, which usually leads to some very interesting conversations.

Of the ceiling fan in his bedroom, which stopped working shortly after our first 90 degree day - in early March - my father's simple solution, a can of WD-40 and me on a footstool trying to aim a needle nozzle into the fan motor. I considered this unlikely and slightly dangerous maneuver right up to the point when he mentioned that the fan worked for five minutes the night before - shortly before it stopped working, started smoking and shot sparks onto his bedspread. This bore too close a resemblance to the ceiling fan I helped him install a few years ago, when he forgot to switch off the circuit breaker. In that instance, sparks flew and I was thrown from a ladder.

I have sense declined to install ceiling fans when he is in the room and have informed him that there is no point in trying to fix the two broken fans (in the kitchen and his bedroom), each of which is around my age.

Money's tight, and it is 87 degrees in my house, so my father's solution is quite similar to his solution for not knowing how to operate the cordless phone - a very long cord. the Old Black Man bought a 50' telephone cord and carried a rotary dial princess phone from room to room, until - that is - I showed him where the talk button was and how to properly hang up the old and large but perfectly serviceable handset. In this case, Dad strung together two extension cords and drags a floor fan from room to room - causing me some mild consternation as I occasionally leave my room and trip over the cord running down the parquet floors in the narrow hallways between our rooms. And given Dad's tendency to turn off lights even when he is still in the room, I sometimes walk into the fan when going to the kitchen. At some point, one of us will have the spare few hundred dollars to install the HVAC unit that fell off the back of a truck, but at this point the only options appear to be the constant and sometimes comforting cacophony of fans going full speed ... and the not so comfortable roll of a bead of sweat down my back.


Night of the Trans-sexsite, a Moral Tale

the Frenemy came by the other day - begging for food and with a fresh story - and the faint stain of the previous night's Revlon - on his lips. He prefers to tell his tales over a cold, fast-food cup of Dr. Pepper, so I got into his new car for the first time since the test drive. True to form - and function - the passenger seat was fully reclined and upon the seat, a lube stain ... and beneath it, a cucumber. I was seconds away from asking a question the Good Lord knows I did not want answered; unfortunately, upon catching sight of my raised eyebrow, the Frenemy gleefully launched into a night's tale.

Tori discovered a halfway house, somewhere in the endless reaches of the West side. And between the bad lighting, and the fact that these men haven't seen a woman in nigh-on 5 to 10, the one 'woman' sex show into which Tori launched herself apparently got them going. Fellating a vegetable is not exactly my idea of a good time, but I stopped the story when the subject came 'round to the topic of insertion.

I was low on cash two weeks ago, so when the Frenemy offered to buy me a martini and a pack of cigarettes, I agreed to split his wig ... well, cut it down anyway. Owing to the types of activities in which he engages, the ill effects of spilled beer, spit, et al. on synthetic hair-pieces, and the fact that once done, Tori kicks off her heels and her hair into one small corner of a good-sized walk-in closet, his red wig is a hot mess.

I soaked it in the kitchen sink, in a solution of tepid water and Fabuloso, and lieu of a Styrofoam wig-stand, donned the unfortunate mop myself, whereupon - armed with kitchen shears (the sort with which one cuts through chicken bones) - I cut it down and combed it out into something that fell short of the Raquel Welch wig-line but came in just ahead of a Halloween head of hair.

I was out of the room when the Frenemy retrieved the kitchen shears to cut the crotch from his dollar store pantyhose, but I reappeared long enough to suggest that he shave his shoulders - which looked a bit wrong outside the spaghetti straps of his leopard print slip. The solution he suggested was low lighting and a paisley wrap procured from his mother - a heretofore seldom discussed holy roller who blessed his (short-lived) union with a part-time drag queen crack hooker but still believes that I am my own twin brother.

A pound of foundation, daintily applied with a makeup wedge, several layers of blue eye shadow, and a lipstick three shades too pink for his skin tone later, Tori slipped into Carlos Santana leopard print heels and clomp-clomp-clomped into the living room, where she sat on the couch, not unlike a linebacker, and returned phone calls (in falsetto) while waiting to leave the house under the protective cover of sunset.

Perhaps it was the blue eye shadow, or the fact that sex show involving a cucumber is a one-night only performance, but that night - when Tori got to the halfway house the result was not lust ... but laughter.

He wanted sympathy ... but again, all he got was laughter.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

St. Francis ... and a S-I-S-S-Y

The Southern faggot writing is an acquired taste. I am both lucky and happy that a lot of people have taken to the unique flavor. Queens from Mobile to Tupelo, Jackson to San Antone - myself included - feel the pull of pen to pad, or whatever the apt digital equivalent may be. It is amazing how easily one can convey a drawl and a raised eyebrow with the mere flick of a wrist and a peculiar, yet familiar, turn of phrase.

I am reading Kevin Sessums' Mississippi Sissy, and the magic started early, and sanguine - with a bludgeoned head on a not-so-fresh white pillow. A sissy in the South loses his father, his mother, and his virtue - roughly in that order, and lives to tell about it.

They say, in AA, that if you listen long enough - sitting in a meeting - you will eventually hear your story, many times over. I have never had that pleasure, or felt that connection. Mississippi Sissy is not an AA meeting, but I felt the connection five pages in. Maybe it was the very sense of being "other(ed)," a fancy, grad school term, parentheses included, for sticking out like a sore thumb, occasionally also interpreted as 'black-sheep-itis.'

Little Kevin sits with his mother, a woman who will be dead sooner than he knows or understands, and she talks to him about the magic of language; of a certain, familiar word, she observed:
"I know people call you a sissy. I know Daddy did a lot of the time, God rest his soul. Even I've called you that in my own way when I'm beside myself ..." She handed me her pen and a piece of her stationery. "Write it down. Write down that word. S-I-S-S-Y ... Now, whenever anybody calls you that again you remember how pretty that looks on there. Look at the muscles those S's have. Look at the arms on that Y. Look at the backbone that lone I has. What posture. What presence. See how proud that I is to stand there in front of you."
Because my parents were older - in their 60s when I was born - I heard that word, 'sissy,' often enough. My father called me a sissy, and threatened to out me to my third grade class. He beat me for having Barbies, and gave me that look that ambled about between disappointment and white-hot rage that I continued to walk 'funny' and talk 'that way.' It was a kinder, gentler time than when the kids in high school called me joto ... faggot.

I like to believe, thinking on it now, that had my mother lived that long she would have sat me down and pointed out the defensive posture of 'F-A-G-G-O-T.' She would have called upon words like 'fierce' and 'tenacious,' perhaps even working in that the "g's" in faggot can be alternate plays on gregarious - which describes the nature of so many gays, and the onomatopoetic 'grrr ...' that involves both whimsy and strength (and is a not-so-subtle nod to the Bear community, might I add).

Of the word epiphany - sounded out by a Baptist preacher on a Sunday morning, when Kevin asked after its meaning - his grandmother responded, "Oh honey, that's a pretty name for a little nigger girl." And it fits, no? In every Southern novel, and most of the memoirs - in addition to the lilting accents and the strange cadence of Southern life - a strong, black woman provides food and wisdom through her very presence, and the occasional "come to Jesus" meeting. So, why shouldn't an epiphany be a little black girl?

I wrote a paper once, "Face-Down in the Dirt," which comes to mind now, a little bit because I am thinking of returning to graduate school - to literature and its study, because I have never been good at much of anything else, and also because of all the music in this Sissy book. "Face-Down in the Dirt" was an eco-feminist read of Southern women writing; it was music and magic. I created something in it I think I dubbed "Black (magic) mysticism," a black answer to the very Latin experience of magical realism. I set up the idea that black women - by virtue of their socio-economic, historic, and gender statuses have a physical and personal relationship with the earth, with dirt. It attached both a romantic and an essential association to the crush of grinding poverty. Dirt floors seem less hellish somehow when one can be literally recharged by them remade in the image and power of pulchritude, find solace and comforts in the mud between your toes - which is, after all, the color of your skin anyway.

And then maybe it's more than just the book weighing on my mind. It's unemployment and going back to school. It's boredom - swollen to the point of ennui - mingled with the need for a smart cocktail. And it is sweating through the sheets. The HVAC unit that fell off the back of a truck somewhere is still sitting in the den. There's no money to install it, and there's no window in my bedroom. It's 80 degrees tonight, inside, and my T-shirt cotton sheets don't breathe the way they should.

I am aware of my fat, my thick thighs and the scars on my chest where a cosmetic surgeon removed 17 lbs. of flesh. I am aware of my skin, its dark color, because it shines with sweat and oil. I am aware of my smell, a not unpleasant warmth that puts me in mind of summertime. For better or worse. It is humid in my bed. And I feel the South around me tonight.

I met with a counselor today, part of the editing process after the photo-shoot, 120 days of therapy and group meetings. It doesn't work like therapy, but it is the best one can get on county funding. The woman with whom I spoke today listened to my stories and asked smart questions - including the question, "Were you addicted to selling [drugs]?"

She listened, which is more than I can say for the other people I met over the past 14 weeks. And she offered advice, which is "not part of a therapist's job, but seems fitting ..."; she suggested I find a church, and I managed not to roll my eyes this time around. Maybe that's what all this Southern talk is leading up to, or the place from which it comes; it is a big ol' mess of serendipity that pus my considerable black ass on a hard, wooden pew ... and reminds me of the lyric and vibrant thing that happens in church and nowhere else in the world.

Maybe I'm supposed to further block out those Sunday school memories, replacing them with becoming a 30-something choir-boy ... and meeting a nice church-going man, who appreciates my very Southern charm(s). And who has air-conditioning.