Saturday, March 27, 2010

Do You Trust Your Guards?

I was flying to Albuquerque for a conference the other day and had the privilege of sitting next to a trio of the most amusing people I've ever met, though I can't say I thought so at the time.

The experience began with me squeezing down the plane's aisle to stop at my row which was, of course, already occupied by two people. The older man got up to let me stumble to my window seat. The woman next to him, who was probably 20 years his junior with a face stiff with botox injections, refused to move. "May I sit down, please?" I asked. I couldn't take one more Yankee attitude. She clutched an oversized Gucci handbag tighter and stared straight ahead, setting her lips. "IF YOU DON'T MOVE," I say louder as if she's old rather than mean, "I WILL SIT IN YOUR LAP."

This makes her pick her dainty toes up and swivel them to the side to rest in her husband's chair. She will not be moved.

I attempt as quickly as possible to turn on my ipod but I'm not fast enough; she immediately begins whining through her nose, "Why do we have to sit back HERE? WHY aren't we flying first class?" So now it's clear. I'm the riffraff who has put her out. The proletariat has infiltrated the ranks.

But her husband doesn't hear her because he's taken up a conversation with a woman across the aisle from him. This woman is about his age, a psychiatrist, and, judging from their conversation, has no idea that Botox is his wife, which is when things get interesting.

After the man declares to the plane that he can "surf the internet in flight any time he wants because he owns $28 billion dollars worth of stock in this company," his new friend gets interested. "Have you been to New Zealand?" she asks. "I once considered living on my friend's 20-acre golf course overlooking the ocean," he responds, "but I didn't want to leave my 4 houses here in the states." His answer doesn't matter; she's asked it so that she can tell him, "I lived a month there after my husband left me. Now I couldn't be happier."

At this point, Botox begins taking things out of the Gucci so that she can slam them into his lap. By the end of his conversation with New Zealand, makeup bags, magazines, and various sundries are piled up to his forehead. But he takes no notice.

Instead, he says, "I might as well move there. You know, for when the anarchy descends."

I cut my eyes sideways and wait for New Zealand's attempt at a girlish giggle but it doesn't come. Instead, she closes her eyes and smiles as if he's passed a test and she's proud of him. "I have a house on a mountain," she tells him. "You can only get there by helicopter." "Us too," he says. They're starting to get excited. "I have a water tank big enough to run a house for four months," she says, giddy. "And we have a house run by a generator that could power a Wal-Mart for six," he adds, more coolly than she did. "Yes," she replied, "but" -- and I'm not making this up -- "do you trust your guards?"

Now, I would've had enough of a story to tell if she'd stopped here, but she didn't. It finally dawns on New Zealand that he speaks with the plural pronoun. "Who's we?" she asked. "My wife," he replied, pointing to Botox who, by this point, has stopped breathing in her absolute fury. Her swollen lips are puffier than before; she's narrowed her eyes as if to slice holes in the back of the sticky airplane tray; her arms are crossed so tightly that her elongated, manicured nails dig into her overtanned skin. "And she's as beautiful on the inside as she is on the out."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Chronicles of a Life in Linden: Shae vs. the Tornado

My first Texas tornado that I can remember happened when I was ten years old and in school. We'd had drills for as long as I could remember but we'd never had to use them. Tornadoes were legends in Texas; I expected to hear a train, though I remember wondering if I should be listening for the clack-clack of its wheels or a shrill whistle. I didn't hear either. In fact, everything was silent, which was quite a feat for the fifth-grade hallway, where several kids were hunched over, faces touching the dirty floor, the top of our heads touching cold lockers, tiny hands covering the backs of our skulls. As if that would protect us from the ceiling that I just knew was going to fall on our heads. The sky turned green. The air became so thick you could eat it. The only other time I've felt something like that was during hurricane Katrina, when my old house breathed in and waited to exhale for what felt like days.

That's when Shae started to chant. It was weird because he was sitting cross-legged -- a direct violation of duck-and-cover tornado code -- and saying words I didn't understand in an even monotone. I was grateful because he'd interrupted the deal with God I was making that I surely would be unable to keep (I promise I'll be good forever; I promise to clean my room every day; I promise to give my book money to the communion plate). "What are you doing?" I asked him. "I'm talking to Buddha," he said. And the storm stopped.

Now, you have to understand that Linden didn't have any Buddhists, at least as far as 10-year-old, sheltered, close-minded Kacy was concerned. You were either Baptist or Methodist or you wore long skirts and spoke in tongues or you were a heathen; Catholics had to drive 22 miles to the closest church and so that didn't count. Why had Shae's God stopped the storm when mine didn't?

Shae was already mystical to me because he could eat an entire hoagie sandwich without any help. In my memory, he brought one to school every day piled high with shiny delicately sliced meats -- I imagine mortadella, salami, chorizo, and serrano ham with lettuce and tomato peeking out of the side. Now there's no way that's true because Milsteps only carried Carl Buddig turkey and bologna and something vaguely resembling meat studded with olives and pasteurized cheese. But the way I remember it, he carried a feast with him. Somehow Shae's ability to eat man-sized sandwiches and to stop tornadoes made him magical. Maybe he was.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Chronicles of a Life in Linden: The Country Store

The Country Store sold icees, stale coffee, those sugar-coated orange slices, and something called "potato logs," which my dad used to buy me for "dinner" when mom took night classes in Texarkana. You could buy gas there and you could count on it being overpriced, or, like the old men who hung out at the tables inside, you could treat it as a place to read the paper and buy black coffee and see your friends when the domino hall shut down. Primarily it was a spot for socializing.

Since it sat at the crossroads of 59 and the gateways to downtown, it was the ideal meeting place. The only problem is that no one really met there to go anywhere; the Country Store was the destination. It was a classless place: the dopesmokers, cheerleaders, rodeo-riders, nerds, freaks, and everyone in-between mingled there, and by mingled I mean that they stood on opposite sides of the parking lot and glared at one another. This so-called party would only be broken up by a fight, a curfew, sheer boredom, or a run to the county line for beer. As a girl with a perpetual twelve-year-old's face (or a judgmental goody goody reputation), I was almost never invited to the latter.

Miss Paula, who wasn't a "miss" at all and should, by Southern standards, never have been called by her first name, bought icees every morning of her life from the country store. She lived in the boonies -- yes, that's a real place -- but made the drive anyway and as far as I know never missed a day. Someone tried to buy her an icee machine once but she never used it. I never really understood the draw but now that I live in a place without a country store, maybe I do.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chronicles of a Life in Linden: The Dairy Queen

I've always wanted to write an autobiography, not because my life is interesting, but because the people I grew up with were. I'll never have the time to do it, so instead, I'm going to tell you about Linden, the little town where I grew up, in a series of blogs I'm calling Chronicles of a Life in Linden.

When I lived there, Linden had 2,000 people and one stoplight and only two official hangouts I was privy to: the Country Store and the Dairy Queen. This is about the Dairy Queen.

The Dairy Queen sold fried steak baskets with fries and gravy and a heartstopper called the DQ Dude which was a fried steak sandwich on two fat butter-laden pieces of bread slathered with mayonnaise. I'm almost positive the side dish was a coffee-can of bacon fat with a straw. My friend Lauren and I would beg for our parents to bring one to us while we were stuck at the daycare, trying to weasel our way out of eating string beans the consistency of cornmeal mush and overcooked macaroni noodles. I divided my fries into even numbers and dipped every other one in the DQ's peppered white gravy and tried to chew each one the same number of times as the last one, an early sign of the OCD nature that would get me my PhD.

Later, it'd be the place where this neighbor kid keyed my shiny blue sports car with 4 round bugeyed headlights for no apparent reason. This same kid spent almost every balmy summer night with me and Bobby on our deck listening to Weird Al tapes and eating Doritoes until the powdered cheese was so caked on our fingertips that we'd have to scrape it off with our front teeth. By day, he'd knock down forts we'd built together and attempt to tear up my family's swimming pool while we weren't home but I could never figure out why until someone told me he loved me. I stand by my own hypothesis that he must have been bipolar but, then, who could ever tell the difference?

Later I learned the Dairy Queen wasn't known so much for its food or vast parking lot full of teenagers but for the drug deals that went on in the kitchen. It's still open despite the fact that someone found a condom in his cheeseburger, sandwiched between two beef patties and a pool of greasy cheese. So much for the bucolic nature of the rural South, eh?