Friday, January 27, 2006

The Truth Emerges....Mostly

I better come clean. You know the “Folsom Prison” incident? The Pete’s meltdown? Didn’t happen. Or parts of it didn’t happen. I did go to the bar with Courtney. Drank a vodka tonic and a Smirnoff Ice (just one, not two). And I did dance with a 20-something hipster. No, rewind. “Dance” might imply too much motor coordination on my part. I shuffled around with a 20-something hipster. He dipped me at the end. But I didn’t succumb to a watery fit of heartbreak on the dance floor. I actually had a pretty good time. I like Cash.

Here’s another confession: I’m not ashamed of my lies. I wouldn’t have spun this Pete’s tale to, say, Jesus. But I figure you’re not Jesus. More likely, you are: 1) a friend or 2) a stranger. If you’re a friend, then you know of my tendency to wax histrionic. Witness September’s skin irritation: “Eczema,” Wynne said, “not leprosy.” If you’re a stranger, I doubt you care enough to chastise me. Don’t you have better things to do?

But okay, I know Oprah would be upset. This morning, Friend (formerly Boyfriendish) forwarded me two articles (this one and this one)about Oprah’s showdown with James Frey, author of the memoir-oops!-novel A Million Little Pieces. In case you haven’t heard, Oprah recently unleashed major pre-primetime venom on the author, calling him an embarrassment and a “liar.” I didn’t watch this unpleasantness, but Hillary Frey, author of the article, called it “a little creepy.” I can imagine. What happened to fuzzy, dishy, Your Spirit-celebrating Oprah? Good thing we have Dr. Phil in the next timeslot.

Hillary Frey (apparently unrelated to James, or at least not admitting any kinship) claims Oprah’s audience stood by the Wo-man, cheering and clapping with every verbal shot. Again, not hard to imagine. I’m guessing Oprah bet her audience would happily accept her apology for initially endorsing James Frey. After all, forgiveness is spiritually healthy. And the audience got a real two-for-one deal: a little Oprah, a little Jerry Springer. No, no, Oprah, we’re sorry we cannot express more affection. You go, girl!

Lying is bad. I think we all agree. James Frey made a mistake and, contrary to my previous post, I believe mistakes should be avoided (ah, what a tangled and troubled web of deceit she weaves!). However....surely someone appreciates the irony -- a larger-than-life TV icon castigating an author for inflating his life. Generally, don’t Americans like reality to be as unreal as possible? A few months ago, Oprah’s audience cheered as Tom Cruise hopped on a couch, shrieking like a banshee. Unreality at its finest. Oprah repeatedly announced that Tom had “gone crazy!” Could be. Or maybe Tom, like James Frey, got a little “confused.” Here’s the deal, Lt. Maverick: we might treat you like a character in an ongoing wacky soap opera, but you aren’t really fictional. You’re supposed to act like an honest-to-god human, not Yosemite Sam.

Perhaps it’s okay to confuse fact with fiction, as long as you don’t write anything down.

Alternately, warping reality might be fine, just do it on television. “Reality TV” enjoys more popularity than ever, despite the inherent oxymoron. This is the true story of seven highly toned, attractive and hormonal strangers picked to live in an exquisitely decorated, liquor-equipped, three-story house and work top-notch spots in the record/clothing/clubbing industry....We call this “The Real World.” Duh. I mean, doesn’t this scenario describe the day-to-day existence of your friends?

You won’t catch me hatin’ on reality TV. I watch more “ _____ With Celebrities” shows than anyone I‘ve met. It makes me happy seeing Master P cha-cha alongside George Hamilton. I’m entertained.

Which, to me, is the whole point.

Or, 90% of the point anyway -- if I’m being honest.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Decisions, Decisions

We're supposed to go out again tonight. Courtney came for dinner yesterday -- eggplant casserole and spinach salad, prepared by my mom. After everyone had swiped the last pieces of eggplant through that garlicky, parmesan-laced tomato sauce, my father retired to the Rose Bowl, and Mom, Courtney, and I worked a puzzle and watched Gigi in front of the fireplace. And after Maurice Chevalier thanked heaven for little girls and Louis Jordan achieved his August-May romance with Leslie Caron, Courtney thanked my mother for a great evening and whispered to me, "Karaoke tomorrow night. Stay out late for some debauchery."

From previous nighttime outings with Courtney, I know the implications of "debauchery." 1) There will be an ungodly amount of alcohol (not that God would endorse anything beyond a single Cabernet). 2) Even if Courtney and I arrive in the same vehicle, we won't leave together. People use the phrase "getting lucky," but in my experience, there is zero luck involved. The formula reads like: two restless, 20-something women; two 20-something guys (the adjective "horny" is generally unnecessary); 5-6 drinks apiece; 1 superficial exchange of phone numbers.

For me -- and, I suspect, for Courtney -- the mathematical outcome includes a fraction of regret. How handy that time is almost as good as booze at smothering unpleasant memories.

My former boyfriend (now capital-F Friend) believes in luck, but not fate. "I don't believe things happen 'for a reason,'" he wrote in the death-knell email. "I don't think the hurricane happened for a reason, or that you wound up in Charlottesville for a reason. I'm glad we met. I'd meet you all over again, even if I knew you'd leave. But we can't stay boyfriend/girlfriend." (This is paraphrasing, but you get the idea.)

Well, it beats "it's not you; it's me."

And truth, I don't think events and relationships happen "for a reason," either. Hurricane Katrina didn't deliver me to Charlottesville for a reason, just like it didn't force families to huddle in the Superdome for a reason. Kids don't get cancer for a reason. There's no reasoning with discrimination or poverty or random violence. Not even with stumbling on the sidewalk. I believe in God, but more as a tour guide than an events director. "There's the spa and the swimming pool and the tennis courts," God says (to me, anyway). "There's a chance of rain, so if you want to stay indoors and play Tetris, go ahead."

Luck and choice, but no reason.

I'm going back to New Orleans tomorrow. Not because Providence destined it, but because I didn't apply for a transfer to UVA. And if I stay in Murfreesboro another week, both my parents and I will require sedation.

I'm a little scared and worried, but I also have a history of luck. I'm not just talking about the relatively undamaged state of my New Orleans apartment, though this represents a major luck surplus. Nothing beyond blind good fortune prompted the first encounter between me and Friend -- the one that led to a round of ciders and Ms. Pac Man, followed by 2.5 months of cappuccinos, Jack White, "Arrested Development" cuddling, etc.

Luck was with me in Honesdale, too. After all, Mary's from Cali, and Joelle and Paul are from Rhode how did we all wind up pub-crawling near Scranton?

I even "got lucky" in the Delta, where the odds aren't so good. What else but luck could sustain a 21-year-old English/psychology major through nine months as an elementary-school teacher? The patented "don't-even-think-about-it" Teacher Look helps, but there must be luck, too.

I don't have a perfect record for choice-making (understatement alert). If I decide to join Courtney at Pete's tonight, it will undoubtedly be a bad choice. But I'll probably go anyway. I often told the fourth graders, "Choices have consequences, so make wise choices" (borrowing from one of my own teachers). What I didn't add was: bad choices often make pretty good reading.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Misery Loves Misery (and Lightfoot), Part II

I'll call the bar Pete's, though that isn't its real name. I'm not sure why I'm using a pseudonym -- if you know Murfreesboro, you know this bar. It's the largest, flashiest sports bar in town, with ad spots on Nashville radio bragging about two-for-one happy hour and locally famous live music. If you don't know Murfreesboro, you probably know a bar called Pete's, in which case you know this bar. "Pete's" is a generic name, and this is your standard, Pete's-ish place. Plate-glass front doors open to a cramped "wait room," where you dish the $6.00 cover while a bouncer makes the mandated, perfunctory ID check. The main room contains, in addition to the bar (teak? mahogany? some shiny wood...), square dining tables; a backlit stage; and a tiny, oblong dance floor. Also, statues of the Blues Brothers, and -- in the spirit of the season -- a mounted reindeer and Christmas stockings. 'Cause nothing says "the holidays" like drinking yourself into oblivion.

When I didn't see Courtney at the door, I went ahead and ordered a vodka tonic. Vodka tonics and I go way back, to weekend partying on Beale during my TFA stint. For Beale outings, I selected the slinkiest, strappiest tops Express could offer, paired with tight jeans and blister-guaranteed heels. I'm sure this combo spoke to several professions, but "fourth-grade teacher" wasn't among them.

For my trip to Pete's, I chose a TJ Maxx sweater that I actually wore teaching fourth grade. Saggy jeans and Easy Spirit orthopedic shoes almost completed the Look. I could've used knitting needles and cats, too.

After a round of cell-phone tag, I found Courtney at the back ell of the bar. She'd ordered a glass of Merlot, and her friend held a Smirnoff Ice. I think her friend's name was Jackie, but it may have been Jenny or Janet. Like most sports bars, Pete's boasted a floor-vibrating decibel level. I smiled at Jackie/Jenny/Janet. She smiled at Courtney. Courtney smiled at me. And we each fixated on the turbo-merry decor, waiting for whatever was supposed to happen next.

Apparently, that was: nothing. The band segued from a cover of "Hard to Handle" to a cover of "Honky Tonk Woman." Rudolph's nose kept blinking. I finished my vodka tonic and started crunching the ice. "Maybe we should go closer to the dance floor," Courtney offered. As this act involved parting the Red Sea of frat boys, none of us were willing to make any immediate moves.

Instead of a miracle, we got "Sweet Home Alabama." At the opening chords, the frat boys leaped from their seats ("Turn it up!"), and we scooted near the stage. God bless the South.

As they say, "liquor before beer, in the clear," I ordered a Smirnoff Ice. (Hush! Smirnoff Ice is too's just sweet beer.) My cell phone hadn't buzzed to indicate a text message, but maybe Boyfriendish needed prodding. "Smoky bar, lots of drinks. I miss you," I wrote. One message received: "Have fun!" Time for another Smirnoff.

I guess I should have accepted the invitation to dance. Booze and dancing are a notoriously bad match, like booze and copy machines (or booze and anything but sleeping). I'd been eyeing the guy who asked me, though -- not because he was particularly attractive, but because he wasn't sporting the baseball cap/collared shirt-over-tee look, like all the other Pete's guys. Another perk: he appeared at least close to my age. Between the two of us, we could have parented some of the kids in Pete's. Not that I was thinking this far ahead.

Quick drink tally: two pre-party SoCo crans; one vodka tonic; two beers. "Drink to forget" was working pretty well for me. Until I reached the dance floor, I couldn't recall the title or artist of the featured tune. Mid-spin, I got it: "Folsom Prison Blues," Johnny Cash. Wouldn't you know, Walk the Line is the only movie that Boyfriendish and I saw together at the theater. "What's your name?" my dance partner shouted. Then, "Hey, what's wrong? Why are you crying?"

The song ended; I ran for the bathroom. When I came out, my dance partner was gone. "Where did you go?" Jackie/Jenny/Janet asked. "Your boyfriend was looking for you."

But that was the problem: my boyfriend wasn't looking for me. "Too much cig smoke," I texted. "Going home." No response. He just keeps a'movin', as Cash says, and that's what tortures me.