Thursday, May 30, 2013

Flashpants in the City

I was asked to read my Hub City/Emrys Creative Writing prize-winning short story at Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, SC. Last year’s winner had mentioned the disappointing turnout at his reading so I shamelessly begged everyone I knew to come be in the audience.

And things went well. I think my story compared favorably to the other readings—despite its lack of sexual content and F-bombs—and a group of 12 people, a mix of family, Sunday school friends, and writer friends (and some game spouses), came and clapped. And I didn’t trip over any cables or, like at my first piano recital, dissolve into a fit of hysterical giggles. All good.

Afterward, 11 of the 12 joined me for dinner. We strolled to a restaurant with a patio, Wild Ace, on Main Street, like we were city folk accustomed to spontaneous on-street dining adventures. We smashed the twelve of us into two tables for four and patiently waited for our sweet, overwhelmed waitress to bring drinks. And later food. And a while later the next person’s food. And eventually the next person’s food… When I waited to use the ladies’ room I noticed a sign in the kitchen—“Remember—customers don’t like to wait.” Ha ha.

At least we had an entertaining floor show. Didn’t know Wild Ace had a floor show? They don’t. The show was provided by (I’m assuming) Spartanburg residents. We’d noticed a group of teens marching around town bearing a sheet-covered mattress held by the four corners like a casket. When they finally made it to our side of the street they asked us to sign the sheet. Why? Turns out it was a church group playing a form of Scavenger Hunt; the more signatures the better chance of winning. At least that’s what they said. I had a few moments of misgiving after I realized I’d signed a bed sheet for strangers, trusting that this wasn’t a big internet hoax and I was going to be exposed as one of many who had done something else on that bed sheet. Maybe I should set a Google Alert to notify me just in case.

But that wasn’t the end of the fun. A young couple finished up at another table and headed out. The girl swayed dangerously, but managed to survive the journey through the crowded patio without bumping into every chair in her path. A minute later my daughter said, “They need to take her shoes off.” I looked up to see the girl draped over the boy, stumbling and twisting, head bent down like she’d forgotten her skeleton back at the table and was trying to prove she could walk without one.

“Is she drunk?” I asked, eyeing her absurd shoes, “or just can’t walk in heels?”

“Oh, she’s drunk,” my daughter said. She’s been to college so she knows these things.

The couple had made little progress—about halfway through the cross street—when the girl collapsed, lying flat on her back in the street. I don’t think she was hurt in the fall—bonelessness is helpful that way. The boy stared down at her as if she were a stranger blocking his path. Another girl went over to assist and she and the boy managed to get Drunk Girl back on her feet—during which we all discovered she was wearing black panties.

All in all, a memorable night. Can’t wait until my first book signing.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sold to the Woman in the Turban and Scarf

My house is tastefully furnished with a mixture of furniture both new and antique.

Okay, I have a couple of antiques, more reproductions, and some really cute old furniture I bought during my post-chemo “I need to try new things right now because there's so much I haven't done yet!” phase, when I went to my first auction and went a little power crazy with the numbered paddle. The excited new owner of old furniture and no way to get it home, I called my neighbor Sherry.

Evidently I called the right person. In a hushed voice she said, “It’s better if you get those kinds of purchases into the house before your husband is aware you bought them. I’ll come with the truck.”

Sherry and I loaded the bedframe and dresser onto her truck, and then unloaded them into the garage under the watchful eyes of my husband. I pointed out the wide wooden side rails to the bed, the small drawers on top of the dresser, the lower drawers full of dainty, dirty gloves, and a book on “hygiene” for young girls. I didn’t point out the water damage. The stink of ancient mothballs inside the drawers pointed itself out.

My husband’s reaction—or lack of one—surprised me. I’d never in our marriage purchased a piece of furniture he hadn’t chosen with me, nor had either of us ever attended an antique auction, so I figured I was in for an argument. But he’d just seen me through a life-threatening illness and was witness to other post-chemo crazies—I guess I caught him at a vulnerable point. All he said was, “I can’t imagine what you were thinking.”

A daughter walked into the garage and gasped. “Oh, Mom, that furniture is beautiful! Please please please can I take it to college with me?” I was so delighted with her reaction I agreed to let her take my precious finds to the same city where her sister couldn’t hang onto a winter coat for longer than it took to meet another cold, homeless person. (She did bring it back.)

John was never a fan of antiques, or “old crap” as he referred to it, until I came into a little money and immediately dashed off to look for a china cabinet. The perfect piece was waiting just for me in a Victorian house/antique shop I could have happily lived in forever, if it only had central air. And windows that opened. And better plumbing. And more electrical outlets. And a better kitchen...okay, never mind. John agreed the china cabinet was a beauty. He liked it so much that, ever since, he has been looking for matching pieces. The fact that we haven’t a dining room big enough for another cabinet doesn’t slow him down. “That would go perfectly with your china cabinet,” he’ll say, rubbing the finish.

We still go to antique shops although we have no room for anything unless we throw something else out. John often says if we had the money he'd replace my “old crap” with a guest bedroom full of golden oak bedframes and dressers.

I wonder if my daughter wants that old crap back.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Karaoke Crazy

Rockin' out! (No, I am not in this picture!)
You’ve ended up at a karaoke party.  Do your eyes roll madly in their sockets while you search for a quiet corner? Do you hyperventilate at the thought of singing in public? Or do you grab the microphone and start rockin’ out?

I used to hyperventilate. Just the thought of singing in front of a crowd made the contents of my gut begin to churn. But some years back when my then-pastor, the saintly and adorable Rev. Davis Chappell was turning forty, the church decided to throw a big party for him whether he liked it or not. I called the organizer and said, “I’ve written a parody of the song ‘This Magic Moment’ titled ‘This Tragic Moment,” and you have to sing it to Davis.”

Steve said, “No, you have to sing it.”

I panicked. “No! No! I can’t sing in public! My voice goes all quivery and I can’t breathe and—”

He commanded, “Sing it for me now.”

Obediently, like the good little Catholic girl I once was, I sang the song in my terrified, quivery, singing-in-public voice, knowing he would agree posthaste I couldn’t possibly sing in front of the group.

Steve said, “You’re singing. I’ll accompany you on the piano. Meet me an hour before to practice.” And he hung up.

Moment of truth time. I sing alto, can keep a tune, and once in a while sound pretty good—in my home, my car, or in the anonymity of a large congregation. But my fear of singing or even speaking in front of a crowd kept me cowering in dread of doing either one.

I had two choices: to finally accept that I was never ever ever going to sing in public, or to woman up and sing.

Time to woman up.

For the next week I practiced obsessively in private, and then began stopping people at work saying, “I have to sing this song in front of you.” Eventually I could do it without having the vapors, and without the accompanying urge to vomit.

The night of the party I practiced with Steve but without a microphone, and managed to get through it in tune, without the quavering.

An hour later Steve put a microphone in my hand.

I sang the first line quietly. Through some holy miracle I sounded—good. My shoulders straightened and I began to sing louder, more confidently, bluesier. And the crowd loved it. By the end they were singing along and cheering. People told my husband, “I didn’t know Valerie could sing!” He said, “Neither did I!”

Much later, a new friend invited me to a karaoke party, a regular event at her house. I selected the song “Crazy,” by Patsy Cline. Typical rookie-karaoke bravado, I learned, to think I could handle that song. Every woman at geezer karaoke bars thinks they can sing “Crazy.” Here’s a hint: most people suck.

But—I didn’t suck. I sang that song like I was born in 1932, like I wore a ’50s full-skirted dress and kerchief, like Willie Nelson (who wrote it) wrote it just for me. I owned that song. One guy said, “I’ll never look at you the same again.” And he meant it in a good way.

Afterward a woman said, “That used to be my signature song, but I’ll never sing it again. I hate you. I’m kidding.” Then she said, “I hate you a little.”

So, if you’re hosting a karaoke party, I’m your girl. I’ll sing in groups, duets, singly, whatever. I haven’t yet braved the world of karaoke bars, but someday I just might.

But if you’re contemplating following my road to instant karaoke stardom, a word of advice: Do NOT steal another person’s signature karaoke song. And by that I mean, stay away from Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” That song is mine.

And I’m not kidding.