Tuesday, April 30, 2013

You've Got Grit

"Alice" was a popular TV show back in the '70s and '80s. From what I can recall (hey, this ain't IMDB), Alice, the star of the show, moved from ...somewhere. She moved from the rat race, I suppose, to start a new life out west with her teenaged son. Once there, she took a job as a waitress in a diner where she learned many important lessons about life and love and the importance of following your dreams. I guess. I haven't watched the show since I was a kid.

Actually, they show reruns here in Jacksonville on one of those channels you only get if you don't have cable. A friend of mine saw it for the first time and was telling me how depressing he found it, which I found strange since the show was a comedy.

"No, it's terrible," he claimed. "She's got this kid and they live in this crappy little apartment and she works this shitty job with a screaming boss and weirdo customers. There is no way that show is funny. Maybe in Russia or something."
Keep smiling and they won't notice how depressed we are.

I had never considered how time alters our perceptions. Sort of like when I noticed a Dave Dudley 'best of' comp at work a few years ago. He was a country star back in the '50s and '60s, probably best known for "Six Days on the Road," a song about a trucker driving around 'taking little white pills' and racing home after a delivery. Dudley also had some drinking songs, like "Two Six Packs Away," a funny song about the troubles a drinking man can find himself in.

Of course, that's how it played back then, when America had a much lighter view of substance abuse and drunk driving. Listening to it now with 21st century ears, you think, "That poor man. He's causing himself so much trouble. He really needs to stop drinking."
Damn, country singers looked a lot cooler back then.

But back to "Alice." Alice worked with another waitress named Flo. Flo was sassy. When their boss said something Flo disagreed with, Flo would answer back with her catchphrase, "Kiss my grits."

This phrase would absolutely slay the studio audience, and was featured all over the place back then; T-shirts, bumper stickers, whatever wasn't already plastered with "Who Shot J.R."

This was all very confusing to a young me.

I mean, I got the gist of what she was saying, but it still didn't make sense. I knew what grits looked like, and they didn't look like any part of the body. If her phrase was "kiss my melons," or "kiss a hot dog" I would  have understood, but grits? I had sneaked enough peeks at Playboy to know there was nothing naked ladies had that could be confused with grits. And I certainly didn't have anything like that. So what was she talking about?

I knew it was somewhat dirty, so I couldn't ask my parents. And because it was dirty, I couldn't ask my friends. You couldn't just mess up your rep as a sophisticated elementary schooler by asking your friends what Flo was talking about. As with other dirty jokes I didn't really understand, I had to just laugh and pretend I got it.

 I kept that silent confusion up for many years. In fact, if I'm being honest, I still don't exactly know what she was talking about, other than using grits as an acceptable way to say "kiss my ass" on TV.

These are the problems that faced a generation of children back in the '70s and '80s. Some call us the Greatest Generation. I am inclined to believe them.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I Have Become the Worst Thing in Showbusiness. I Have Become a Ham.

Mid '90s: It's about 2 AM and I'm walking home from a sophisticated social engagement. It's a nice fall morning, and I'm slightly drunk, doing what will later be termed my "gay walk," which is sort of a lumbering, shuffling, pigeon-toed Frankenstein gait that comes out when I get drunk or really sleepy or tired of wandering through fabric stores.

Even though it's easy enough to get a ride home, it's always nice to sneak out alone from a party or show and walk home alone through the cool night air with my ears ringing, my head spinning, thinking up ideas and plans, feeling alive and young and at one with the universe, thinking that I've found exactly the place I need to be at, here in Gainesville, Florida.

I'm shuffling down the sidewalk a few blocks from my house. I'm thinking of a Radon or Spoke song and kicking stuff out of my way. "Out of my way, trash! I'm walking here! Out of my way, stupid can! Look at that big piece of burnt driftwood in the sidewalk. I'm gonna kick the hell out of you, just for being in my way, and because I'm young and drunk."

I connect with pretty good force, but the driftwood doesn't fly away. Instead, making a gross "thunk" sound. Hey, this isn't driftwood at all. And, come to think of it, why would there be driftwood in the middle of a sidewalk in Gainesville, miles from the ocean? Oh, this driftwood has teeth.

Holy crap, that was a burnt pig head.

I look at it, all black and burnt. I'm pretty sure it starts crying at me. I'm sort of grossed out, but also bewildered. Why would there be a burnt pig head in the middle of the sidewalk?

Early '00s: I spend early Christmas Day morning in my in-law's guest bathroom reenacting Evil Dead 2, at least the parts that deal with fluids exploding out of a sweaty, sleepy body. "It was the ham," I think. "That evil, evil ham."

The ham had been sitting out for a while the night before, and I thought that it should have been refrigerated. Guess I was right, but winning doesn't feel so good.

So if you invite me to your house and serve ham, I'll eat the leathery, salty, inferior-to-turkey meat. But I'll be thinking of sad burnt pig's heads and terrible Christmases.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Better Homes and Gardens

I spent a lot of time dreaming about my future house. Before falling asleep, or during long rides in the car, I'd fantasize about all the different rooms and passageways the adult me was going to enjoy.

This was in the old days before smartphones and back-seat DVD players, so I had a lot of time to design my future digs. Come to think of it, even if that stuff had been invented back then, most parents would probably have banned them on the theory of, "Why should I be bored driving when the kid gets to watch his Space Wars foolishness?"

While I admired the all-around design of the Addams Family house, or Disney World's Haunted Mansion, I felt my house should be more normal looking on the outside, only to BLOW VISITORS' MINDS once they got inside. Plus, a big creepy, Psycho-looking house might give people the wrong idea. I didn't want to be a villain or a creep, just a dude with an awesome house.

Exposure to kid mystery shows and books made me realize I needed hidden chambers behind bookcases and hidden passages to different rooms. Ideally, the house would also be over a secret cave I could firepole down to and ... I dunno, plot and stuff.

I didn't really see the need for those oil portraits with the eyes cut out where you could watch people, but figured I had to have them as part of the overall decor. Plus, I'd probably get a deal on them if I installed a firepole.

I definitely wanted a secret laboratory, even though I didn't really know that much about science. I would have to keep a gorilla down there, since based on old movies and comics, gorilla brain transference operations were pretty routine in secret laboratories.

I'd probably want a Tor down there as well.

But while secret chambers and labs were cool, what I really wanted was an outdoor room.

I have no idea how I came up with this plan, but I really wanted a bedroom that was full of grass with a pond in the middle. Maybe some boulders scattered around, also. To make myself fall asleep at night, I would concentrate on the carpentry and stuff I'd have to do to accomplish this.

I'd have to saw the door about a foot from the floor, then make some sort of liner to accommodate all the dirt. I was also going to stock the pond with fish, so I could catch some every once in a while, or maybe just look at them while relaxing in my outdoor room. I think I might have actually written some blueprints for this room at some point.

While the outside room was going to be my home's shining architectural achievement, I had a second act - an upside-down room, where all the furniture, outlets and everything would be up near the ceiling. While the outside room would have been functional (sort of), this would have been just for weirdness' sake. When friends came over I could casually say, "Oh yeah, you can stay in the room down the hall," and watch as they caught a debilitating case of vertigo.

I thought about this stuff for years. When I got older I didn't think as seriously about having an outdoor room or an upside-down room, since that stuff seemed sort of outlandish, but I did fantasize about having a living room that was a huge half-pipe, as that was much more grown up.

I think a lot of this came from hearing about the Winchester House, with its stairways leading to nowhere and false doors and ghost traps and whatnot. Plus, a lot of TV shows at the time, like Real People and That's Incredible celebrated weirdos who lived in crazy houses or drove cars covered with lightbulbs or whatever. So I was really sort of in tune with '70s culture.

I never got a chance to design my cool house, but there are places in my hillbilly shack where you'll probably go through the floor if you stomp, and my ancient windows let in about as much heat or cold as standing outside, so you could say I'm fairly close.

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Fools Cancelled

So I was going to make an April Fool's Facebook post in the style of all those forwards you get from your creepy family members that say stuff like, "I was standing in line at Publix and the woman in front of me had a new cell phone and fancy shoes and gold teeth and was buying steak and lobster stuffed with caviar and booze with a food stamp card and I could only afford three beans because I work for a living. Then the cashier gave her $700 cash."*

Then I thought better of it. Who needs to get into a big political thing on the internet now that it's springtime and things are blooming and the weather's nice? Plus, what if I had friends contact me saying things like, "That's right! That totally happened to me, too!"**

It'd be all unsettling and weird, like when my friend Pat owned a record store and had weird 40 year old polo shirt wearing dudes from Ocala acting all squirrely asking if he had any Skrewdriver records behind the counter.

Would I have to weed out my friends? Would my friends think I had turned all teabagger and weed me out?

Then I thought how annoying April Fool's Day is after you grow up anyway. Gullible and trusting people like myself have to be on guard against the internet or NPR trying to trick us. Again, who needs the hassle. 

So instead of an April Fool's joke that probably wasn't that funny anyway and might lead to fights on the internet, here's a music video where monsters dance around.

Isn't that much better?

*And I'm not saying these things are racist, but isn't it strange how all the cultural signifiers used always point to African-American women?

**Hint. These stories did not happen to anyone. Tell your racist aunt.