Category Archives: 5-Second Stories

Being and Southerness: pineapple coconut cake, the town of Plymouth, and onion-flavored turds

by Angela Perez

One Sunday in September of 1979, the wind blew hard all day and I sat rather uncomfortably in the parking lot next to the Church of God in the small Southern town of Plymouth, North Carolina.  Here in this swampy little town the geese congregate for a spell in the fall and the air year-round smells like sulfur thanks to the smokestacks on the pulp mill down the road.   This morning, I heard Sister Dale tell Sister Overton as they were setting up the tables outside for this afternoon’s church homecoming luncheon that the stinky smell put out by the pulp mill is the smell of money.  Most of the church congregation is employed there and it’s pulp mill money what paid for all these pretty pink cotton dresses and white vinyl pumps from Rose’s.

All afternoon, old ladies with stiff grey beehive hairdos have been cutting into me, into my moistness, and exclaiming “Sister Braswell has done it again!  Good Lord, I’ll have to take twice as many sugar pills tonight!  Praise the Lord!”   I will admit, I had some competition from Sister Overton’s collard greens with fatback and homemade cornmeal dumplings (you can still see where her nimble fingers made impressions in the dough).  But at the end of the church day, it’s dessert that finishes everyone off and that’s what they taste on their lips as they drive home to watch football and vacuum the floor and crochet a little colorful lopsided afghan destined for the back of the couch.   My creamy frosting is what they will remember as they doze off in the La-Z-Boy recliner, wearily dreaming of those long ago days when afternoon sex was a sure thing on the weekend.

Ah, but I digress!  Back to church!

There among the wooden benches pulled from the vestibule into the parking lot, people moaned in ecstasy over my creamy coconut frosting and then rolled their eyes into the back of their heads (I promise I am not a sex-obsessed cake.  I just call the world as I view it.)  As Brother Braswell stuck a fork in me, I heard him whisper to the Korean mail-order bride (who was married at the time to Brother Chester, a 65-year old man who always sat through Sunday service cleaning his filthy fingernails with a rusty pocketknife) that he wanted one more go ’cause she had such a sweet-ass cooter.

The Korean woman raised her eyebrows and primly directed him to try her kimchi salad, which was an unusual dish to see on a table at a church homecoming in a small town in the South in the 70s.  “Be careful when you eat it, Brother Braswell,” said the Korean lady, “it’s real spicy, like my cooter.”  He laughed and licked some frosting off his fork in a suggestive way.  I saw his toupee was flapping in the wind just a bit and wondered if the Korean lady noticed too.

I was a pineapple coconut cake for most of an entire day, but I never let all of the compliments make me cocky.  And then, as you know, by about two o’clock that afternoon, after about 100 people had stuck a knife into my gentle sides or, in the case of some of the really old people, stuck a pissy smelling finger into my top to scoop up a dab of frosting, I was reduced to mostly fluffy golden crumbs.  Life sure is odd.  Just as you receive all the accolades and compliments and recognition that you need to go out and be confident in the world, you just up and disappear.   Doomed to a toilet bowl or an adult diaper in just a few hours.

What else can I say? Did the folks at that homecoming in Plymouth really find joy in me that day? Could I have behaved differently there amidst the giant cast iron pots of collard greens and cabbage and brightly colored Tupperware bowls of coleslaw, and mac and cheese and potato salad?  Well, I mean, sure, it doesn’t matter now, but I want to know because there will be many more cakes after me at future church homecomings.  I mean, these little kids who were digging their spoons into me all afternoon will grow up and bake their own cakes on hundreds of Saturday nights to be ready for Sunday homecoming.  This little town will grow and flourish because the ever-deepening stench of sulfur tells us so.  That pulp mill will make paper forever and little families from West Virginia will continue to move down here to find work and they’ll keep building white and yellow shot-gun houses and buying dresses and shoes from that little Rose’s department store downtown.  The world will always need paper!

Aw, sure, I was a delicious cake for just a day but I’ll tell you this: at least I wasn’t Sister Smithwick’s broccoli casserole, that one covered in French-fried onions.  That dish always makes Reverend Dean so gassy and his farts stink up the parsonage for days after homecoming because he loves the way Sister Smithwick sautees her broccoli in lard first.   But, oh, what wonderful explosions emanate from the rolls of onion-flavored turds in his butt!  What yells of disgust Brother Dean makes while he sits on the toilet!   So, kids of the South, listen to me carefully.  Keep your mind on the future and find a good husband or wife and have two children, a boy and a girl, and go to church and figure out what dish you make best and bring it to homecoming.  For this is the way of the world.

*Editor’s note:  thanks be to Istvan Orkeny, a Hungarian writer who went to the movies and hasn’t been seen since

I was the hit of the homecoming.

I was the hit of the homecoming.


7-card stud, fried catfish, and girls who are ripe for Southern dick

by Angela Perez

Dear reader, I’m going to share with you a conversation I overheard yesterday whilst dining in one of my favorite country-cooking cafés.  As I feasted upon cucumber & onions in apple cider vinegar, hushpuppies, slaw and fried flounder, a rough-looking, ruggedly handsome, middle-aged fella, about 50, and his buddy, a wiry, white-haired, elderly man in a John Deere cap, sat in the booth behind me.  I know what they looked like because I checked them out when I got up to pay my bill.  Here’s what I heard (names have been changed):

Younger fella: [in a thick, Southern accent where one-syllable words are spoken in two syllables – like “cah-aHd” for “card”]: I’ll tell ya’, that ole gal’s running that card game in [tiny town in rural Franklin County] three days a week now.  All ‘dem boys is gettin’ in on that game.  7-card game.

Older fella: Nah. Nah.  Count me out.  I ain’t gettin’ in trouble with the old lady.  No cards for me.  Not anymore.

Younger fella:   That Tommy is a crazy sumbitch when he’s drunk.  And he always loses when he gets to drinking.  I won $3,000 last Thursday night ‘cause he was hitting that bottle.  Had been all week.  I don’t know when he ain’t drunk lately.  [Pauses, looking at the menu].  I’ll be damned if they ain’t added some new things on the menu.  Chicken-fried steak…clam strips…Nah, I want my usual, them chicken livers.

Older fella: I’m getting the chicken and dumplings. That’s always good.

Waitress comes over to their table. She’s tall and scrawny, a very weathered-looking 21 or 22, chewing gum, white-frosted, stringy, mouse-brown hair pulled up in a bun, and quite possibly, hidden under her purple t-shirt, a tattoo sprawled across her lower-back consisting of a shaky galaxy of stars, hearts and/or butterflies or maybe the word “Slipknot” or “Carolina Panthers” with the team logo.

Waitress: Whatch’all boys having to eat today?  Tommy [Editor’s note:  This Tommy is not to be confused with the drunken Tommy, you know – the one who turns into a sumbitch when he gets drunk] I know you.  You want them chicken livers.

Tommy [to the old man]: What did I tell you, Ed?  This little gal knows what I like.  [guffaws in a suggestive way]  I like a gal who knows what I want.

Ed:  I want the chicken and dumplings….ummm….no….get me that catfish with fries and hushpuppies.

Waitress: I gotcha.  It’ll be out in a little while.  [she walks away]

Tommy: That lil’ gal is ripe for it.  Just like her momma used to always be.  And I gave it to her more than a couple times.  Her mamma, I mean.

Ed: What’s her name, our waitress?

Tommy: I can’t remember, known her since she was little.  But her momma, now, you know her.  Donna.  Used to be Donna Jackson.

Ed: Oh yeah.  I remember her.  Well, I remember hearing about her.  She married that Phelps boy.

Tommy: Yep, Jimmy Phelps.  He plays cards with us, too.  You know, I read in the paper today that that ole’ boy ain’t paid his taxes.  But he’s up at that trailer every week playing cards like he’s got money to spend.  I feel bad for him though.  He had to put his momma in that nursing home and it’s costing him an arm and a leg.  But three people stopped by my store today and told me they saw Jimmy’s name in the paper for not paying his taxes.

Ed: People love to tell you bad news when it ain’t about them, don’t they?

Tommy:  You damn right.  You know, I saw Jimmy kick his dog one night.  He had brought that dog of his, a yellow retriever, up to the card game and Jimmy was drunk as hell and he was losing all his money.  And that dog kept whining at his feet and he kicked that dog so hard I thought he’d killed him.  I’m gone tell you one thing you don’t do around me and that’s hurt a dog.  Jimmy nearly got his ass beat that night.  We made him go home after that.  Kick no dog around me.

Ed: Nah, ain’t no call for hurting a dog.  That’s unconditional love right there.  Cain’t expect that kinda loyalty from people, I’ll tell ya’ that much.

Tommy: You know, Lou Ray won $2,200 that same night and he don’t never win.  I still think he was cheatin’ somehow.  You cain’t trust a single one of them in that whole family.

Ed: His daddy won’t no good.  And none of his boys are.   They’re all trying to find a way to make a dollar off you, whether it’s to your good or not.  And it’s never to another man’s good, I can tell you that much.

By this point, I had eaten all of my food and needed to go ahead and go the counter and pay the check. As I stood up, I accidentally pushed the booth seat back into Tommy’s booth seat behind me.  I apologized to him and he smiled. 

Tommy: Aw, purdy girl, I thought you was just getting fresh with me.

Angela:  I never get fresh before 5 p.m.

Tommy: Whoo, girl [he gives a low whistle] call me at 5:01 then.

Angela:  [laughs out loud]

As I walked outside, I thought about going back inside and asking Tommy if I could go to a card game at the trailer with him some time. But I figured he’d think I was ripe for it.  So I let it go and went back to work.

What a woman obsessed with scuba diving looks for in a man. Or rather, what you don’t want.

by Angela Perez

Ah, what ARE women like me (who are obsessed with scuba diving) looking for in a man other than him possessing a working penis, all of his teeth, a job, and a strong stroke?
Well, I’ll tell you.

This conversation happened between me and a co-worker at some half-assed Mexican restaurant (you know the kind, where they feature $5.99 specials called Speedy Gonzalez 1, 2, 3 and so on.  And each dish tastes exactly the same but satisfies a craving so you go and eat half a pound of two day-old chips and shell out 8 bucks total plus tip for the waiter who is wearing too much Drakkar Noir and wonder why you put yourself through this mediocrity every 3 or 4 weeks.)

My co-worker, who is in her mid-30s and has been married for 10 years and has 2 children, asked me this, “So Angela, do you think you’ll find the one any time soon?”

“Find the one what?”  I asked, reaching for one of the stale chips.

“You know,” she said, “the man you’ll marry.”

“You know that I believe marriage is for the weak,” I said.  “You and your husband excluded.”  (I just said that to pacify her. I actually count her in that bunch.)

“Oh, Angela, there’s a wonderful man out there who will make you want to run down the aisle.”

“Maybe,” I replied.   I tried the guacamole.  “Good Lord,” I exclaimed, “I think they put shredded jicama in this.  It’s incredible!”  I dipped my spoon in for another try.   They had indeed put jicama in guacamole.   A revelation.

“You’re avoiding the topic,” she said.  “So, how about this.  Tell me who your ideal man is.”

“I honestly don’t know,” I said.  The waiter came back to ask us how everything was even though we hadn’t gotten our food yet.  The acrid smell of his cologne was actually clinging to the back of my throat, ruining the joy of jicama.  Suddenly I recalled that the first time I ever had sex was with a boy wearing Drakkar and we were listening to a Metallica cassette on his boom box.

“Okay,” she said, not giving up, “let’s do this.  Tell me what you absolutely don’t want in a man.”

“Hmmm…okay, that I can come up with,” I said, dipping a chip in the salsa.

“Yayyy!” she squealed, daintily clapping her hands.  “Finally.  So name five things quick – without even thinking about it.  Aaaaand…GO!”

“So.  One. I could never date a man who suggested that for a first date we eat at Olive Garden.  Or any chain restaurant. I could never date a man who regularly wears golf shirts and khaki pants with pleats in them.  Men should never wear pants with pleats in them.  Flat front only. Wait – do those two items of clothing count as two reasons?  He’s got to love to get in the ocean – swim, snorkel, dive, I don’t care.  But he has to want the water as much as I do.  Hmmm…also,  I could never date a man who wears Y-front white underwear.  Gotta wear boxer shorts or even just let your balls and dick swing in the wind.   Oh, and I like nice, solid forearms.  My favorite part of a man’s body.  Oh and one more, I could never date a man who thinks getting a group together to get on one of those Trolley Pubs in downtown Raleigh would be a fun thing to do.”

[Trolley Pubs are found in larger cities across the U.S.  They are these rolling pubs (like a giant bicycle) where up to 14 people get on and sit around a bar-in-the-round and each person pedals as they troll through the streets of downtown, drinking beer and going from pub to pub.  Their revelry combined with the flashing light decorations make it the most annoying sight and sound imaginable.]

“Oh my God,” she said, frowning.  She let out a sigh.   “I was thinking more along the lines of you naming certain qualities like if he was a Republican or is obsessed with sports.  Which I know neither of those is okay with you.”

“Those are two good ones to add to the list actually,” I said.   Wow, I didn’t know she knew me that well.

She shook her head.  “You are going to die alone.  You can’t be so specific.  One guy isn’t going to have everything.”

“I know that,” I said.  “Okay, I can maybe let go of most of those except for the ocean part.  It’s fundamental to what I think about, how I look at the world.  I cannot get around someone not wanting to be in or near the ocean.”

“What if he doesn’t like the ocean but had a lot of money and treated you like a queen?”

“I’d rather die than concede,” I said.  “Power never concedes without a demand.

“What does that even mean?” she asked.

“I don’t actually know.”  I looked around, weary of the conversation and of, particularly, myself.  “Where the hell is my Speedy Gonzalez number 12?”

“Do you really even truly know what you want?”

“Yes,” I answered carefully, “I want a man muscled in flame and who sweats kindness and intellect and who is funny and who will burn me to the ground causing me the exact opposite of harm.”

She rolled her eyes at me and nodded towards the approaching waiter.  “Okay.  Whatever.  Our food is here.”

“Good,”  I said.  “Great.”   And I threw down on that Speedy Gonzales like the good little single Mexican gal I am.



That mortician who chopped a man’s head off: one afternoon at Darrell’s on Roanoke Island

If you’re wondering where to dine “authentically” while visiting the Outer Banks, you gotta eat at Darrell’s in Manteo, a simple place that’s been serving up simple fried, baked, or broiled seafood to the locals since the 1960s. The place is always packed with leather-faced islanders and a paler, softer species of landlubber from the mainland, all wolfing down fried shrimp, hush puppies, and slaw.  Just now, as I pretend to read a William Faulkner book, I overhear one salty old fella waxing poetic in a “Hoi Toider” accent, that beautiful bizarre bastardized British accent still prevalent in parts of northeastern North Carolina.  The old man leaned in across the table towards the young man in front of him, a 20-something year-old whose strong able back faces me.  “Moi woif droives here from Stumpy Point oivery dai,” he says.   Stumpy Point is about 25 miles south of Roanoke Island, in mainland Hyde County.  It’s a long, desolate road from there to here, people. I ain’t kidding neither.
Old man says to the waitress:”Oi want froied oi-sters. Puddem’ in that hot grease for two minutes. And that’s it. I want them oi-sters squealing. And I want slaw and froid okra.”
The waitress grabs the menus from their hands.  She looks to be in her 50s,  the kind of weathered ole’ island gal who can balance a baby on her hip, a cigarette on her lips, and give a fisherman a hand job.  The old man informs the young man as to where to find good BBQ. “There’s none down here on the oi-land. Gotta go to Wilson.” He is, I would venture to guess, referring to Parker’s BBQ.
He tells a joke:  “I met a sailor from Siberia. At making love he was inferior. He met a nun, and gave her some that was good enough to make her a Mother Superior.” He roars with laughter.
All the folks in the restaurant seem to know one another and talk across the tables. All have the unique accent, so preserved from a couple hundred years of isolation and hard toil in this country of half-land, half-water. Hard living crabbers and fisherman, these people are a dying breed. But you can still find it in northeastern NC if you stay off the actual beaches of the Outer Banks where hundreds of overweight tourists roll around in the sand while their yapping and miserable terriers burn up in the sun.
The old man’s now discussing the wonders of collard greens as he pops fried okra into his mouth with his fingers. He says, “My buddy Joe swallows collard greens and fat back like a damn hoingry hog. You got to en-joi collard greens slow. It’s a sight to see, that man eating collard greens.”  They eat in silence for a minute or two.
He adds nonchalantly, “His kin folks are that mortician who was cutting people’s heads off.”
“Oh, yeah, I heard about that,” mumbled the son-in-law, giving up on eating his burger in peace and quiet. I just now glance directly at the old man and we make eye-contact over his lunch partner’s shoulder. His eyes are full and blue and set deeply in a million leathered wrinkles and he smiles at me.  He then glances down at his okra and says, “That Joe eats collard greens like a vacuum cleaner.” He pauses. “Stonewall Jackson was one of the best confederate generals we ever had. I just got a book about him for Christmas from my daughter.  Your wife.”
The younger man doesn’t respond, but holds up his empty beer bottle to the waitress, “Hey, get another Bud for the stud.” She laughs. It’s the laugh of a life-long smoker.
I finish my iced tea and prepare to leave, feeling sad in the sedate knowledge that I will never hear of Joe the Collard Eater or the murderous mortician again.
As I’m putting on my coat, the pair is asked by the waitress to give one of the dishwashers for some help. “His car battery is dead.  Needs a jump.”
“Well. Woi not,” says the old salty dawg, “Sure thing. He’s a good enough fella. Come on son. Finish that beer quick-like.”
“Yes sir,” he says, guzzling down the beer.
The old man stops in front of me and taps me on the shoulder and says, “You are one purdy woman. I mean it.”
And just like that, he walked out of my life forever.


Black folks, those illegal Mexicans you hate and the rural Christian academies of eastern N.C.: Long live the U.S.of A.!

by Angela Perez

There are no race problems in eastern North Carolina!  Who told you there were?  Those fanatics were pulling your leg, my friend, because black, white and Mexicans living Down East do indeed all still eat at the same Chinese buffet and cash their checks at the same banks.  Though, some are cashing welfare checks but, hell, somebody always is abusing the system, ain’t they?

But let’s just pretend, for a moment, the rumours WERE true.   That the rabble-rousing nay-sayers had a point.  If we go down that road, well, I suppose you could say that in the sometimes tense racial environment characterizing much of life in rural eastern North Carolina, there is a phenomenon that endlessly yet subtly fuels tension: it is called the private rural “Christian academy”.   But, like I said, those glum and laughable tales are way off the mark.

Those little Christian academies are an important part of rural life! These tin-roofed meccas of private kindergarten-through-high school education are typically funded and sponsored by the wealthy white farmers working the land around places like Buzzard’s Cross and Todd’s Crossroads and Jernigan’s Ridge and their families have worked that rich land and killed hogs for generations.   The schools usually support about 50 – 150 students tops and there is a delightful Christian element to daily learning that ensures not only will the children not have to be exposed to the shenanigans and general immoral attitude of black folks and Mexicans, but also the Lord Jesus will live in their hearts until they are called home to heaven.

These  hearty, salt-of-the-earth folks and their kids don’t generally know many black folks since they live in the rural parts of N.C., areas most of the the black people fled right after these farmers’ great-great grandfathers freed them from those happy-go-lucky days of slavery.   The wealthy male farmers, unfortunately, are still exposed to Mexicans since they employ many hundreds of them under the table to work the land, but the farmers make sure that the lewd and over-sexed Mexicans never come up to the big house for supper or lay eyes on their plump and delicious pale-skinned wives or the gentle blonde curls of their daughters.   Luckily, on the weekends, when Mexicans are swarming the rural countryside, the farmers’ wives and daughters are over at the mall in Raleigh, shopping for cute tops and nice bedding at Macy’s.  Such a fancy store and there’s always a 60% off sale on something!

Nowadays the only negroes they have to abide are those two they show on the Fox Network news channel all the time, that Obama and his uppity wife, I think they call her Flotus or something (black people name their children the craziest names and it’s been proven that those African names like Flotus can keep those children from being successful later in life).   If you look into the sky over eastern North Carolina, you can see all the wisps and clouds of earnest prayer, billowing up to the heavens, entreating Jesus and his father, God, to hurry up with the day they get those communists of color out of office and return to the good ole’ days when black people knew their place and Mexicans who did slip over the border were sent back home packing, that is, unless they worked in the fields for low wages or learned English and could make good tamales and salsa.

So back to the phenomenon of “Christian academies” that pepper the landscape in eastern N.C.  These bastions of pure and higher learning cost a few thousand a year and they are a wonderful enclave of white happiness and erudition where darker skin colors and sin don’t interfere with the 21st century like it does elsewhere.   No ebonics or baggy pants here!  No Mexican boys trying to kick those hideous soccer balls around on our pretty baseball field!  No Mexican girls with coconut oil in their hair and short Old Navy skirts trying to rape our freckled boys!  Once in a while, a wealthy family falls on hard times and the child or children must leave the sweet confines of the academy and attend public school.  Public school kids, those irascible hoodlums, often take great joy in the misfortune of these once-pampered white folks, but, having good Southern manners, they don’t say much about it to their faces.

Here on these Christian campuses, white doves are released every morning after prayer time and the girls still wear pink Espirit sweaters and Izod turtlenecks and the boys still wear white Don Johnson blazers, with the sleeves pushed up to the elbows.  When the women graduate, they are gifted 50 pounds of fat, which adheres to their middle-sections and thighs and they are granted a short haircut that’s full on the top and adorned with lovely white frosted tips.  They then have 2 white babies and attend a nearby church.  They still have rarely seen black people or Mexicans except at the grocery stores, which, for some reason, even in this day and time, are neither private nor overseered by wealthy local farmers.

Ah!  These elite academies prepare some of the the farmers’ kids for college!  Many, alas, are not ready for their exposure to knuckleheads from India and China and Africa once they hit the university grounds.  So, many will go to local universities, like East Carolina University or UNC-Wilmington, or Pitt Community College, mainly so they can rush home on the weekends and get away from the liberal, hawkish sinners of the world, especially the gay ones who walk around campus holding hands.  “It’s hell on Earth, mamma!” sob the farmers’ daughters who, alas, haven’t found husbands on campus because those gay men keep sticking their cocks where they don’t belong!  So, they rush back to the farm on Friday evenings after their last class and eat homemade fried chicken, collard greens, and biscuits and swill sweet tea, each lovely girl dreaming of that rosy-cheeked, well-to-do rural boy who will sweep her in his strong arms, make love to her, and whisper sweet promises that she will never, ever have to hold down a job or career of her own.  Or, at the very most, she’ll have to keep the accounting books for the local church, but only part-time.

The wealthy farmers’ kids who don’t get swept up in worldly desires and liberal values while away at college, usually, finally return home, or at least end up living in the “big city” that is closest to the farm, in places called Plymouth or Williamston, or New Bern or Rocky Mount.   Armed with their college degree, they become the heads of local banks or pharmacists or open a car dealership.   Since some of their biggest customers are, in fact, black people and Mexicans, they develop an easy camaraderie with them (as long as they don’t rob their stores!), but they still don’t want their children commingling with poor folks of any color, because poor folks are always up to no good.  So they continue to send their children to the elite country academy, even though nowadays that sometimes means having to drive an extra 30 – 45 minutes to get to the school instead of back in the day when attendees lived within a five-mile radius. But sometimes, my friends, you have to use up a lot of gas and have patience if you want to preserve those sweet, good old days!

That’s about it for now folks.  So, here’s to the private Christian academy and the good work they do to keep our Southern values afloat and alive.  Somebody has to do the hard work, and they know it mustn’t be those lazy black folks or illegal aliens who, for the love of Christ, don’t even bother to learn to speak English and are always driving drunk with no license.  No, this work must be done by God-fearing white people in big strong trucks, because that’s what made America what it is today!  Viva la U.S.A.!  Ooops – I’ve got to speak English if I’m going to be living on this glorious soil.  Long live the U.S.A.!

What I use Facebook for, people who get upset with other peoples’ posts, and your reasons for being on social media

Recently, a friend of mine was “scolded” by her morally upright friends and family for some of her “wild” Facebook posts – photos of her drinking and smoking.  They warned her that the world would think terribly of her and that she must stick to posting photos of her latest bowl of pho and of the autumn leaves changing.   That she was being perceived as a wild slut.  Also, I’ve seen a lot of posts from friends lately who are so upset by Facebook that they are going to have to check out for a while.  Here’s what I’m thinking about all of this:

I view social media as a form of self-expression – a way for me to be completely open, honest, and transparent.  And at the same time, I am able to mold and shape that self-expression in an artistic and thoughtful way that is still honest.  My posts are a way to combine reality and art in a public forum.  It’s a grand thing really, to be able to do this.   Social media is catharsis for me.  That’s why I am careful about who I friend – I don’t friend co-workers or family or people I think would not understand the extremes of my personality or self-expression.  They will easily misconstrue my posts.  The people who respond to my posts negatively or judgementally or argumentatively, I delete them.

I see people, and this happens to me sometimes too, getting frustrated and upset their experience with Facebook or the responses to their posts.  Anything you see from me on social media is a true expression of me and where my head is at that moment – or I wouldn’t have posted it.  I’ve had phases where I eschewed selfies and I’ve had phases where I posted a lot of selfies.  And I am sure there have been some who have been irritated by my “selfie” phase.  I post a lot of photos of my dog.  (If you are ever irritated by dog photos we weren’t meant to be friends anyway.)

There are a lot of posts of me going to shows and of me out on the town with friends and a lot of posts of me drinking gin and and about sex and men and even sometimes smoking and partying.  Of me traveling the world to snorkel, swim, and scuba dive. Because that’s my lifestyle.  If I posted something else, it wouldn’t be honest.  It wouldn’t be me.   My posts aren’t to celebrate self-destruction or self-glorification.  Jesus Christ, I ain’t 12 years old.  No my posts are part of my free and single lifestyle – the way I am currently choosing to live my life.

My posts reflect what is happening in my life – the good, the bad and the ugly.  If I was always knitting and baking cookies or had a baby, well, you’d see endless photos and posts about that.  But I don’t do those things.   No, I go to shows.  I love heavy metal.  I drink gin.  I swim and dive.  I read a lot.  I love Russian literature and Japanese and Chinese film.  I am in the dating scene right now.  I am getting laid now and again.  I like to write.  I have the sense of humor of a perverted 15-year-old boy sometimes.  This is who I am.  And my social media activity reflects that and is a lens for those activities and ideologies.

I love my family.  And I love my friends.  But at the end of the day, it’s my fucking life.  And I cannot and will never let anyone dictate what I do or how I do it.  In fact, unlike my girl friend, I cannot even fathom what I express about myself on social media being an issue.  If one of my family members or friends told me that my posts were too “wild” or “immoral,” well, once I stopped laughing I would tell them to go fuck themselves.  Period.  Then don’t look at my posts.  Delete me.  Unfollow me.

I’m going to express myself however the fuck I want to.  And the type of people I am friends with, for the most part, are eccentric, creative, wild, free, artistic, have similar interests, etc. and understand what I am doing with social media.  Those people do similar things, and many of you fascinate and entertain me on a daily basis.  (Also, I need social media to keep track of the shows I want to see and where I want to dive next.)  So many of you have similar lifestyles.  Or, maybe you have settled down, but HAD a similar lifestyle and you understand what I am expressing.  It’s funny, when I go out, most nights, there’s always someone who comes up to me and mentions how much they enjoy the things I share and express on Facebook.  And although in no way do I need validation for any fucking thing I do, it makes me feel good that somehow my self-expression meant something to someone else – high brow or low brow.  I like knowing that what I put out in the world makes someone else feel good.  Or better.  And, okay, at the end of the day, social media is a purely self-indulgent, selfish, giving, and sharing exercise for me – and I am fascinated by how words and photos manifest those states of being, of thinking.  The process of the ego and the id in the world.

What is social media for if it’s not to be a true expression of who you are?  No, no, no – it can never be a full expression.  But what is?  It’s not possible. I’ve thought long and hard about this.  We’re in a new era of sharing and understanding ourselves in relation to one another – now through this bizarre lens that isn’t going away.  You may say, but we’re not supposed to KNOW that much about one another.

I disagree.

Social media may evolve or morph, but it’s not going away.  If you don’t use it to parse out and create something that is utterly true to who you are, what’s the fucking point?  Social media is indeed, in 2019, an extension of ourselves.  Deny it all you want.  But it is.  It’s a new way to connect and communicate with the folks around us and friends far away.  People we’ve never met or didn’t know before.  In fact, there are people in Raleigh I’ve known through going out for over 10 years and I’ve learned more about them through Facebook than I ever did before and cultivated deeper friendships based on some of the information I found out which piqued my interest.

I use social media to express my psyche – insight for myself and those around me.  And the psyche is not a clean, ordered, moral place.  It is the opposite of that.  And people who claim to constantly live in a clean, ordered and moral place or who care about how perfect their lives look to other people, well, I don’t want or need those people in my life. It’s not honest.  It’s not genuine.   And I want to live genuinely.  The noble and the cowardly.  The high brow and the low brow.  The cool and the absolute idiocy.  The wise decisions and the really stupid, dumbass shit.  And everything in between.  And I want to express it through this incredible medium – through articulation I come to understand myself and the world around me better.  If you construct your life in a way that leaves the worst out, then I’m not being honest.   And that is not a life that I am going to live.   Ever.


On slaves’ bones and turkey buzzards

By Angela Perez

Me and my dog Tater are in the back woods of Tyrrell County near historic Somerset Plantation, slicing through that ancient silence along the Scuppernong River, the morning sunlight glinting like diamonds on the black velvet waters. I slam on brakes and the car jerks to a stop, flinging Tater into the dashboard. There in front of the car is a mangy brown dog staring down a giant turkey buzzard, both angling to devour the carcass of a squashed snapping turtle there in the middle of the road.

I roll down my windows and listen to the starving dog growl and edge closer to the dead body. The buzzard stands his ground, flexing the broad expanse of his wings ever so often. I hear a voice to the left of me.

“Now that’s a fight right there,” said a withered old black man sidling up to my window. I looked around me trying to see from what nearby house he must have emerged from. I saw nothing around me but miles of plowed fields dissected by black water canals. “You know slaves dug those canals to connect that river to that plantation down the road,” he said. “They worked them men ’til they wore clean out and if they died while they was diggin’ they got left right where they died. Ain’t even bury ’em.” He whistled at the stray dog. “You better come away from that buzzard Mr. Dog,” he said, “he’s gonna tear your ass up when he finally gets mad.” He looked at me. “You know there’s slave bones in them ditches. They come up some nights and talk to me. Tell me things.”

He patted the side of my Jeep, “Watch out for that ole’ buzzard.” He turned around and walked back down the road behind us. I looked ahead and the dog was chewing on the turtle’s head and the bird had flown away. I looked in the rear view mirror. The old man was nowhere to be seen.

Two stoned dudes ordering at the Bojangles drive-thru: gimme all your dirty rice

I needed hot fried chicken last night.  Real bad.  So, while I was at the Bojangles drive-thru waiting on my order and I could hear the two stoned-as-fuck guys behind me ordering (they were on the loud speaker):

Stoned driver ordering: Rice. Gimme rice.
Bojangles worker: Sprite?
Driver: Rice!
BW: Fries?
Driver: Rice!! RICE! Gimme all your dirty rice.
Stoned passenger to driver: Man, I’m the highest I have ever been at a Bojangles.
Driver: Shut the FUCK up, I’m ordering.
Passenger: Get me some mac and cheese.
Driver: No way man. Last time you got that shit all over my fucking truck. You’re getting fries.
Passenger: I’m high and I know what I want. End of story. There’s a big difference in fries and macaroni and cheese.
Driver: Not when you’re wasted as fuck and riding in MY truck.

Alas, dear reader, my order came all too soon and I had to pull away. So much wonderfulness all around us if we just pay attention while getting hot fried chicken.

cheech and chong

Working is for suckers: cocaine dealers I have known

by Angela Perez

I once knew a drug dealer in Raleigh who, after many years of being a moderately successful coke slinger, abruptly decided to go the straight and narrow. He felt avoiding jail was in his best interest and recently he’d made some bad decisions that were about to land him there.

And while he truly enjoyed snorting coke off the titties of a constant bevy of eager strippers; being the center of attention at wild parties;  receiving the red carpet treatment at certain clubs and restaurants; and cruising around nightly in rental limos stocked with liquor, well, he supposed it was time to give all that up.  “I’m done,” he told me one night on the phone.  “I’m out.”  And he hung up.

So one of his closest friends got him a job in a downtown furniture-making shop and he went to work eight-to-five pulling in just above minimum wage.  He abandoned his nice rental house in the Raleigh historic district and moved into a dilapidated 2nd floor walk-up with a buddy of his who delivered pizzas.  The apartment was a dump that reeked vaguely of rotten oranges but it was cheap and he could manage his half of the rent.

Every morning, he got up at 7, got to work by 8 and worked until quitting time.  During this uneventful period of manual labor in his life, he ate lots of Oodles of Noodles and Big Macs and drank Food Lion brand soda.  Every night, he watched t.v., usually wrestling, until he fell asleep.  Or played video games on a very large, top-of-the line t.v. he’d acquired during his drug dealing days.  Few people called and, unlike the old days, strippers stopped dropping by at all hours of the night for a visit.

Every Friday at lunchtime, he’d pick up his paycheck, cash it, and have just enough money left for a week’s worth of groceries, a cheap bottle of bourbon, and to pay his part of the bills.  He went through these motions for about 6 months and found that he was more depressed than he’d ever been in his life even though he no longer suffered from the fear or pressure of being arrested or robbed (I don’t know if he ever worried about actually being killed.  He never said so.)  Although he came to realize who his true friends were and that the number had diminished greatly since he’d become a working stiff, he missed the company of dilettante acquaintances and the easy thrill of superficial good times and weary fucked-up sex with chicks who probably had some sort of venereal disease.

One Tuesday night, I was bored and went over to visit him.  I knocked on the sagging screen door and he yelled for me come on in.  He didn’t ask who it was.  I don’t think he cared.  Odd thing, a screen door on a 2nd floor apartment.  Never seen that before.  Through the screen, I could see him sitting in the Lazy Boy there in front of the door and past him I could see the tiny kitchen table covered in dirty dishes and over-flowing trash bags.  I walked into the tight apartment and he motioned towards the flatscreen,

“Oh, hey, you’re just in time for wrestling.”

I shoved several empty pizza boxes and wadded-up McDonald’s bags off the torn leather sofa, a once-glorious piece of furniture that originally cost $5,000, and sat down on something sticky that soaked through my pants.  “What the fuck?!” I yelled, leaping up,  “Why don’t you clean this hell hole up??”

He didn’t look away from the t.v. and shrugged.  “What’s the point?” he said.  “What’s the point?”

I decided to keep my mouth shut and picked up a rancid, faded beach towel off the floor and gingerly spread it across the couch cushion.  I sat down and stared at him.  He turned off the t.v. and closed his eyes, leaned his head back and said,  “Working is for suckers, Angela.  It’s for fucking chumps.”

The next day, he didn’t show up for his job.  And he didn’t show up any other day after that.  He went back to selling coke.  I don’t know how successful he was at it that time around.

I only know that he was dead 4 years later.  He was my brother.  And every morning these days, I wake up and wearily haul myself onto the metro to head for the office.  And most mornings his words seep into my muddled thinking,

“Working is for suckers. It’s for fucking chumps.”

My corporate job is in a grey building in Washington D.C.  Sometimes, on my way to work,  I nod off while sitting on the crowded subway train thinking about what he said.  And I miss my stop and have to take the next train going back.  None of the other people packed into the car know that I think they are suckers.  I think they are chumps.

Author’s note: This little story might be true but then again it might not be.

Your day job vs. gardening – when your wife will only suck the tip

by Angela Perez

When the Life Path Genie appeared before the man in his dull grey cubicle there on the 39th floor of the office building, it really was quite a shock. He had never complained about his work.  And while pushing cyber paper and assisting Vice Presidents with important needs and gentle egos wasn’t what he’d dreamed of being when he grew up (he’d planned to be a sexy astronaut or a real pussy magnet in a loud and famous heavy metal band), well, he was never the type to complain.

And while his job wasn’t necessarily as fulfilling as his hobby of raising 20 varieties of daffodils in a tiny hothouse he’d built in the backyard, his job paid the bills and provided decent health insurance for both him and his wife of 10 years.

Although he was middle-aged and in full health, he knew it was just a matter of time before he needed pills of all sorts and regular rectal exams.  “That’s the aging process love!” his mother told him before she died last year.

The man often found work fulfillment by sometimes attending a monthly whiskey club some of the lower-level employees on his floor had put together.  But he wasn’t much of a drinker so he didn’t always go.

The Life Path Genie showed up the moment he clicked on the third job listing on LinkedIn.  POOF! The genie appeared next to his computer. Only 10 inches tall. The man was startled but he didn’t cry out.

“Since you’re in a cubicle, I’ll have to whisper,” whispered the genie. “I see you have been looking for jobs while you’re at work.  You know, you could get fired for that.”

“You aren’t wearing little shiny pants,” said the man.  “Or a little turban. Where’d you get such a tiny business suit?”

The genie tapped the computer screen impatiently.  “These things are of no importance.  What is important is that you looked for jobs three times three days in a row from a work computer. Such actions immediately summon me, your personal Life Path Genie.”

“Wait, are you from human resources?” asked the man, looking around nervously.  “Are you here to fire me?”

“No, no, no,” said the genie, laughing just a bit.  “I’m here to help you find your true life path.  Obviously this isn’t it, or you wouldn’t be looking for jobs.  At work.  That’s really taking a risk you know.  IT and human resources could find out and then it’s the axe.”

“Well, it’s not so much that I want to quit. I mean, I have great benefits, the pay is decent.  Higher than average really! I’m low-level so I’m not really on the radar of the really super important people in the top levels of management who ensure the continued success of this operation.”  The man paused for a second and continued.  “Oh, and there was this one woman who was only about 30 years old working in the cubicle next to me and one of the new managers really liked her blonde hair and cute pants and noticed her talents and raised her several pay grades.   She was moved up, not for looks, but for talent.  It shows that you can get ahead around here if you have talent and combine that with the right pants!”

“Sir,” said the genie, “you’ve been here six years. The flowers of your labor are in full bloom. You come to work early so that the important managers can see you and you stay late, laughing loudly at co-workers’ jokes that aren’t funny, so the managers know you are working late. When, in fact, you are playing solitaire, updating your Facebook page, reading the New York Times online and talking about sports.  Is this how you want to spend your life?”

“Well, genie, there ARE worse things to do with yourself,” replied the man.  “Like working for the state or with people who don’t speak English.”

“I also know that your wife doesn’t have sex with you anymore because she also isn’t happy in her office job,” said the genie.

“Well, she gives me hand jobs some mornings,” said the man sheepishly.  “Sometimes she gives the tip of my dick a right good sucking.  What business is that of yours?”

“Good sex is important to finding your life path,” said the genie matter-of-factly. “Well, sir, I think I know all I need to know about you.  Get ready, my friend.  Your life is about to happen!”  And with that, the genie disappeared with a poof that was no louder than an unobtrusive fart.

The man had no time to figure out what had just happened because he had an important meeting to attend that was actually really very unimportant.

That night after arriving home and tending to his tender daffodils, he walked out of the hot-house and stood very still in the quiet of his backyard.  It was dark already and the stars were clear and bright.  He looked over into the neighbor’s yard and there was the pretty 24-year old school teacher who had moved in only 3 months earlier.

She was naked and looking directly at him. He walked over to her.

“What are you doing?” he asked, feeling blood rushing into the tip of his rather unused penis.

“I’m going to fuck you right here in my backyard,” she said, wrapping her lithe young limbs around his body. “And then I’m going to kill you.”

The man turned to see if his wife was peeking out the window.  She was not. He turned back to face the school teacher.

“That’s fine,” he said. “I very much want to stick my cock into you and see where this goes.  But please don’t kill me.”

“We shall see,” she uttered softly. “We shall see.”

The next morning, the man’s wife found her husband dead in his hot-house, stabbed in the stomach presumably by the clipping shears protruding from his belly. He was sprawled across the Hoop Petticoat variety of daffodil.

The police speculated that this was most certainly a suicide. When they questioned his wife and the neighbors, including the school teacher, no one knew of any reason that the man had to kill himself.

“We loved each other,” sobbed his wife. “We went to the movies regularly and ate out at lovely restaurants once a week.” When asked about how he felt about his job she replied, “He’d just gotten a 3 percent cost of living raise at work. They allow him access to social media. It was all going so perfectly.”

“He couldn’t have suffered from any kind of despair or disillusionment. Why, why throw our life together away?” she wailed. The wife was inconsolable but comforted by all of the gluten-free and free-range gourmet duck fat casseroles that friends and family had started to bring over to express their sorrow at her loss.

Later that week, at the man’s office, as his department’s administrative assistant cleaned out his desk (there were mostly clip binders and soy sauce packets in the drawer), she found a sticky note addressed to the VP of Human Resources.

“Dear important sir. I did not attend the three meetings I had on my Outlook calendar for tomorrow. I didn’t want to work here anymore.”

“Tsk tsk,” said the administrative assistant. “What could he have wanted to be, poor dear?  A VP perhaps!” She was going to give the message to human resources but remembered she had to put out coffee in the conference room because four very important managers were scheduled for a meeting in 10 minutes.

Just let well enough alone: a one-minute tale of weight loss and gain and loss

by Angela Perez

Sometimes, you just need to take a compliment with a simple “Thank you” and let well enough alone.  Especially when you’re weight has gone up and down and all over in the last year and a half.  This happened last night:

Friend (who hasn’t seen me in 5 months):  Whoo, girl, you look good!  You look skinny!
Angela:  Skinny?
Friend:  Skinny.
Angela:  As compared to what?
Friend:  Uh…as compared to last time I saw you.
Angela:  Skinny?
Friend:  Well, I mean…skinnier.
Angela:  But use of that word implies a degree of svelteness.
Friend.  Okay, why don’t you just shut the fuck up?  How ’bout this – you ain’t as big as you were. You look so good so please shut the fuck up.
Angela: Let’s start over.

Note:  This is still way better than how some of my Southern friends and family back home greet you when you visit for the holidays: 

My 300-hundred pound diabetic cousin donning a muumuu:  “Whoo, Lord, you have really packed on the pounds since I saw you.  Lookin’ just like your big Aunt So-and-So.”
Angela:  You haven’t seen me in a quarter of a century.  Since I was in high school and weighed 100 pounds.
Cousin: I know. Girl, ain’t no slim folks in your family. Wasn’t never meant to last no ways. Seen this comin’. Weight Watchers, girl. Weight Watchers. We got to stay on it in this family. (She says she eats the top off of a red velvet cake.)
Angela: Hand me that whole tomato.
Cousin: Girl, is that all you’re eating?
Angela: No, I am about to shove it in your mouth so you’ll shut the fuck up. Pass me the mac and cheese.

A Tinder conversation: lesbians and spider webs

Dude:  hey sexy, my lesbian girl friend and me will go out tonight.  care to join?

Angela:  Why are you telling me that she’s a lesbian?

Dude:  just ’cause 😉 😉  she’s hot though 😉

Angela:  Are you telling me to let me know that you aren’t homophobic?  Because that’s awesome if you’re an open-minded person.

Dude:  hell yeah LESBIANS

Angela:  Your lack of capitalization except when it comes to LESBIANS is quite troubling.

Dude: you wanna come 😉

Angela:  And gay men?  How do you feel about them?

Dude:  naw son not down with that some wrong shit

Angela:  Do you mean being a homosexual is wrong?

Dude:  not if you got big titties 😉

Angela:  What else have you got to entice me to go on this extraordinary date?

Dude:  I am all tatted up and am hung big dick baby.

Angela:  I noticed the tattoos on your arms in some of your photos.  What other tattoos do you have?

Dude:  just got two spider webs

Angela:  On your elbows?

Dude:  nah around BOTH NIPPLES ha ha ha

Angela:  So basically you now look like you’re wearing a spider web mesh BRA all of the time?

Dude:  you down or not

Angela:  Let me mull this over.  [UNMATCH WITH MUCH HASTE]


Oh, what a tangled web we weave whilst single.

That day in the gym: a hot blonde girl with a peach of an ass, 10 studly firemen, and KISS’ Strutter

by Angela Perez

As soon as I see the tiny tight hot-assed blonde chick get out of her car, I know what to expect.  She’s dressed for the gym in white miniscule skin-tight shorts and a hot pink sports bra.  Her long, silky golden locks are tied up in the cutest, bounciest ponytail you’ve ever seen.

Wait.  Let me back up.

The two rows of treadmills and elliptical machines at my gym face a glass wall that overlooks a busy strip mall parking lot.   The glass allows you to see who is coming and going into the gym or what lazy slough is passing it by on the way to either the Subway on one side or the Ace Hardware on the other.   The blonde parks her car in front of the gym just as I enter into my 20th minute on the elliptical machine.  I am drenched in sweat.  It’s pouring down my face.  Down my back.  Between my tits.  No cute ponytail bouncing up and down on me.  No, my black hair is pulled up into a no-nonsense severe, German dominatrix bun.  I come to the gym to kick ass, not titillate muscle-bound men.  But every day in the gym (and I go to the gym six days a week), I notice women all kitted up and outfitted to make those boys in tank tops drool.  These gals are wearing full lipstick and eyeliner and next to nothing.  Granted, they look fabulous.  Sweaty svelte women are never a bad thing.

But, dammit, those hard little half-exposed peach bottoms on these bitches are wreaking havoc in my gym and it’s fucking up my work out.

Okay.  Back to the blonde ponytail.  She parks her car in front of the gym and hops out.  There I am on the  2nd row looking out the window at the McDonalds across the parking lot wondering if I could possibly have a Big Mac and not gain weight if I work out for over an hour.  And then I spot her.

And then I look for it.  I look to see what the middle-aged men on the treadmills in front of me do.  And they do not disappoint – about three of them almost trip and fall off the machines.  They are mesmerized by the taut ass in tiny shorts.  All of these smitten fellas are wearing wedding rings but they just can’t help it.  Ah men!  Ever predictable.  I do love them so.

I’m listening to Der Kommissar on my headphones and smiling.  Smiling because I can’t wait to see what happens as soon as she walks into the gym.

She was young her heart was pure
But every night is bright she got
She said sugar is sweet
She come rappin’ to the beat
Then I knew that she was hot

And, without fail, all of the guys on the treadmills in front of me try to surreptitiously sneak a peek at her.  They start puffing out their chests.  One even slows his gait so he can better follow her movements with his hawk-like gaze.  I don’t dare turn to look at her to see if she notices all of the cocks standing at attention upon her arrival.  Because if I don’t stay focused, my sweet soft uncoordinated ass will flip off the treadmill and break something important.  So, I continue to huff and puff and blow my middle region down.

I’m getting tired, legs on fire, sweat burning my eyes…thinking about giving up and just working out my legs on the adductor machine and calling it a day…but then a song comes on my iPhone

KISS.  Strutter to be exact.

Everybody says she’s lookin’ good
And the lady knows it’s understood

I am renewed.  Rejuvenated.  A fucking machine.  Wait, not a fucking machine as in I have a lot of sex.  I mean “fucking” as an adjective to stress just how in the zone I am.  No, no, no.  I’m no James Brown sex machine.  Not yet.  I have 2,567 more workouts to go before I can aspire that earn that moniker.

Back to Goldilocks.

I’m done with the elliptical and head over to do some bench presses.  She is standing beside me.  Preening in the mirror, a Love’s Baby Soft vision of pink skin and Gaudi curves and  Toulouse-Lautrec sinew.  She is breathtaking.  It’s inspiring.  “Aw, shucks,” thinks I.  “If I keep bench pressing, I too will possess a body like this.  A body so distracting that men can’t even focus on pumping iron.  That preempts their drive to tear up muscle tissue.”

So I add some more weights to the bar to speed the process along.

Nazareth’s Hair of the Dog is next in rotation on my song list.  I add 10 more pounds to the bar.   Now you’re ALL messing with a son of a bitch.

Red hot mama
Velvet charmer
Time’s come to pay your dues

There’s no need to go into all the peacocking and twirling and flirting and smoldering going on between Goldilocks and many of the fellas in that gym.  You know the drill.  But there in that moment, watching all of those men watching this women, I am having a revelation.  That is, I realize I love this woman.  For her power, for her self-possession.   Because whatever else she is doing in that gym, she is bad-assed.  And she has worked hard to get into the shape she’s in.  She’s a powerhouse of chickdom.

And, I won’t judge men for objectifying.  For not 30 minutes earlier, while sweating to Johnny Thunders lamenting about “the way it goes,” I see about 10 hot volunteer fireman, dressed in their sexy fire house attire, clamber out of a bright red fire house van.  Agog at such a bevy of studs, I almost drop the free weights on my feet.  They are all heading into the Subway next door.  Which is why I cut my workout short that day.

Because I know, that if I hurry up, I can get into that Subway, all aglow and sweaty from my workout, and do some preening of my own.  I may not look like Goldilocks in my work out shorts, and there may be mustard on my black t-shirt from the Sonic hot dog I ate yesterday after working out, but I can damn sure make that eating a whole wheat bread toasted roast beef sub into the sexiest damn spectacle you’ve ever seen.

It’s all in how you handle the extra mayonnaise.

Sexy fitness girl is working out with weights

Sexy fitness girl is working out with weights

That time I got attacked by a bear in Harney County, Oregon

by Angela Perez

Since I’ve moved back to my beloved Raleigh, NC, many of you have asked me about my recent, brief two-year stint in Oregon.  I’ve told the following story many times and a while back I wrote it down.  I’d like to share it with you now.

Scree, canyon, coyote and bear

Back in 2010, I decided to leave the South and move to Baker City, Oregon.  Before I moved to eastern Oregon, I had done my research.  I knew that the wild and remote area featured high desert country, no humidity, lots of snow in winter, a sparse population and no good places to find grits, sweet tea or fried chicken.  But I didn’t know of the drastic variety of the landscape.  One minute you’re cruising down the road through an endless vista of sagebrush flats, and the next, you’re maneuvering your way up the backside of an alpine forest-covered mountain.   There’s a canyon near Baker City, called Hell’s Canyon, along the border with western Idaho, that’s one of North America’s deepest river gorges.  The gorge was carved out by the ancient Snake River, alongside wheremany Oregon Trail pioneers met an unhappy demise.

One weekend, I went down into the southern parts of Harney County in the far southeast for a solo weekend camping trip.   I’d been to Burns, the county seat down there, many times for work reasons.  And I’d always marveled that Burns marks the border to some other universe – a doorway leading into a vast alien landscape of jagged rim rock and cooled lava beds stretching down into Nevada. The land there is a place where man is welcome to visit, but remain at his own peril if he doesn’t understand the laws of coyote, canyon, and scree.


Steens Mountain sits in Harney County, a remote and wild part of southeastern Oregon. Steens Mountain sits in Harney County, a remote and wild part of southeastern Oregon.

Steens Mountain sits in Harney County, a remote and wild part of southeastern Oregon.

As the summer was coming to a close, I noticed the calendar was edging dangerously close to snow season so, one Saturday, I got up bright and early, pulled out a map, loaded up the car with my camping gear and my dog – a half-beagle, half-basset hound named Tater, and headed to no-man’s land around noontime.  I decided that we were going to camp on Steens Mountain at Fish Lake, a little Aspen-speckled campground about 7,400 feet up the mountain.

Harney County is referred to by many Oregonians as no-man’s land. They have a point. Oregon’s largest county, with a total population of just over 7,400 hardy souls, is out there. Sagebrush and buttes.  Gorges and wild mustangs. Parched desert and hot springs.  But not a lot of people.

There in all of that solitude and epic ruggedness, one can almost hear geological formations happening and the gears of time moving the earth’s mantle.  The naked red basalt stacks and mountain-gouging winds move across the landscape, at different paces, but each as gnawing powerfully on your senses at any given moment.  Contemplating the Alvord Desert from atop the 9,700-foot peak of Steens Mountain, I stood small and silent and a little bit nervous as I felt the earth’s crust wrap itself around a core of seething magma.

But I digress into melodrama.  Back to the impromptu camping trip.

As I got to the little village of Frenchglen – population 12 – at the base of the mountain and turned left on a lonely dirt road knows as the Backcountry Byway, I began to question the wisdom of taking a camping trip alone.  Perhaps somewhere up there among those quaking aspens and cottonwood trees lurked a bear that would eat Tater as an appetizer and then have me as an entrée.  I was, however, sort of ready for bears at this point.  All summer I had been readying up on how to survive a bear attack.

My friends in Baker City found my fear of bears on the mountain hilarious.  “There aren’t any bears up there,” said one of my girlfriends one night a few weeks before as we sipped beers at Barley Brown’s, a local brewery in Baker City.  “But that doesn’t mean you should take camping trips alone.”   That evening, we hoped hot and lonely cowboys would saunter in for a cold beer and some warm company.  But none ever came through the door.

Back to the Steens.

As I got to the little village of Frenchglen – population 12 – at the base of the mountain and turned left on a lonely dirt road knows as the Backcountry Byway, I began to question the wisdom of taking a camping trip alone.  Perhaps somewhere up there among those quaking aspens and cottonwood trees lurked a bear that would eat Tater as an appetizer and then have me as an entrée.  I was, however, sort of ready for bears at this point.  All summer I had been readying up on how to survive a bear attack.

I wound my way up the mountain, Tater hanging out the passenger’s side window, and arrived at Fish Lake’s campground, a secluded little stretch that skirts all the way around a rather small, unremarkable lake.  I found the perfect camp spot among a little grotto of trees and soft tussocks of long grass, and pitched the tent just two feet from the lake’s abrupt edge.  I then set up a lounge chair.  Tater and I sat by the lake-side and watched fish jumping, while a nice fat ribeye steak sizzled on the portable grill.  Well, I watched the fish jump and Tater watched the ribeye.

I started to get nervous as the sun went down and families were leaving the campground to head home after a long day of fishing.  Eventually, there was just me about a half-dozen other families scattered around the lake’s shore.

After supper, I left my tent flap open, stretched out on my air mattress and marveled as the sun cast its warm golden glow onto the hills surrounding the eastern rim of the lake.  Then, without a warning, night fell and the wind started to blow like crazy.  I had read in one of my Harney County brochures I picked up at the chamber of commerce in Burns that winds come out of nowhere on the mountain at this elevation. I called my dog into the tent, zipped up the flap and proceeded to try and sleep.  The wind was whipping up little waves on the lake and the sound was so close I felt I was sleeping in a canoe.

“Ah, the sound of waves.  Perfect for inducing sleep!,” thought I.  What could there to be scared of?

And then it happened.  I heard a very distinct snuffling sound outside the tent.  I tensed up.  Tater was already sacked out snoring.  Was it a bear?   Paralyzed with fear, I sat straight up.  The snuffling got louder- it was definitely a bear.  Or a porcupine with a cold.  Either way, I was in a tight spot.

I briefly contemplated leaving my dog, Tater, behind to handle the intruder. Don't tell Tater about this.

I briefly contemplated leaving my dog, Tater, behind to handle the intruder. Don’t tell Tater about this.

The minutes dragged by as I frantically cooked up a plan of action, which was as follows:  unzip the tent as fast as lightening and quickly shine my flashlight into the eyes of the intruder, blinding whatever had invaded our campsite.  I would then make a mad dash for the car, hoping that Tater – who was still asleep – would spring into action. I wasn’t quite sure what would happen after that, but I figured it would all sort itself out.

As I yanked down hard on the zipper to open the tent flap, the zipper got caught in the fabric and ripped the lining all the way around the opening.  After finally tearing open the ripped flap, I whipped out my flashlight to blind whatever it was with the bright light.  With a frantic flourish, I clicked the “on” button, but instead of a flood of searing light, there was nothing but a weary trickle of tired yellow light that barely lit up the ground in front of the tent.

“What the…?!?” I shouted, shaking the flashlight until the light went out altogether.  Oh, good gracious, I’m going to die out here on this mountain all alone, I thought, while my dog is passed out on the air mattress.

I shook the flashlight again and shone it around.  There was just enough light to identify the trespasser.  It was, in fact, a paperback book.

To be exact, it was A Walk in the Woods, by travel writer Bill Bryson.  I had been reading his camping stories to see how Bill handled bear attacks while hiking the Appalachian Trail.  The book had fallen out of my backpack and the cover fluttered in the high winds, scraping the front of my tent.

To be fair, there is a bear on the cover of the book, so there was a bear attack element to the entire debacle.  Meanwhile, as I stood there feeling foolish, Tater snored even louder.  I sat down in front of my mangled tent and looked out over the lake, feeling the adrenaline leach away from limbs, head, and heart.  After an hour of staring up at the millions of stars in the ink-black sky above, I crawled back into my tent and promptly fell asleep, dreaming of the South and of camping trips where the biggest threat was a curious ‘possum.


Hey, Angela, sorry to hear your cousin killed his wife and shot himself. It’s Christmas-time in Hollis.

I had just finished pumping gas into my car and was screwing on the gas cap when I heard someone yell out, “Oh my God!  Angela, is that you? You’re home for Thanksgiving, I see.”

It was a former classmate of mine, one I hadn’t seen since we graduated high school 25 years ago, back in 1989.  I recognized him vaguely but couldn’t remember his name.  I did notice he’d lost a substantial amount of hair over the past couple of decades.  His camouflage jacket was zipped up to his chin and he had on red gloves, which struck me as rather unpractical for staying hidden while stalking deer.  Camouflage is the standard mode of men’s dress in eastern North Carolina.  I stood there, smiling but squinting as I tried to recall his name.

“It’s me Larry.  Larry Perry [editor’s note:  name changed].  We’re friends on Facebook,” he said, hugging me.  I hugged back and immediately recalled I had never really been friends with him back in high school and didn’t even know we were Facebook friends.   Larry used to be part of the woodshop crowd, a low-key, quiet group of boys who mostly smoked cigarettes behind the lunchroom and dated plain girls who were destined for motherhood and not much else.   As a member of the drama club, I rarely had time for boys who listened to country music and made overly-shellacked shelves for their mothers and those boys weren’t interested in a girl who listened to the Grateful Dead with vaguely gay miscreants obsessed with amateur dramatics and Boone’s Farm “Tickle Pink” fortified wine.

“How are you?” he asked.  “When did you come home?  I know you live in Raleigh.  I read your Facebook posts.  They are always so crazy and interesting.  And I always read your blog, that “Muumuu” thing you do. I like the way you write.  I don’t really like to read usually but I like to read your stuff.”

“Wow, thanks, Larry, I appreciate that,” I said, feeling myself warming up to Larry immediately.   I am imminently susceptible to flattery of all kinds.  “Yeah, I’m just here for the day visiting my dad.   I’m about to head back.  How are you?”

“You know, gotta keep on keeping on,” he said.  “Just working for the tax man.”  He paused and shook his head.  “That was rough news, about your cousin.”

“What cousin?”  I asked.  I am not close with my extended family and hear little to no news about them.  Most of my mother’s side of the family has remained in this part of the state for centuries (yeah, that’s right centuries – as in since the late 1600s.)  This clan of dozens is thick as thieves, spending weekends together, going to church together, calling each other daily, and staying very in tune with the minutiae of one another’s lives.   The narrative of their blissful existence reads like a John Cougar Mellencamp song:

Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Prob’ly die in a small town
Oh, those small communities

Educated in a small town
Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another boring romantic that’s me

Well I was born in a small town
And I can breathe in a small town
Gonna die in this small town
And that’s prob’ly where they’ll bury me 

Ah!  There’s something seemingly pleasant and charming about such an innocent existence but, in fact, the dark, gossipy, judgmental, racist underbelly of that small town existence becomes apparent about five minutes after you roll into the county.  I wondered what dark gossip Larry had for me.

“Your cousin, Mike Waters, your first cousin,” he said.  “I saw him.”

Mike.  Mike.  Oh yeah, Mike Waters.  I hadn’t seen him since I was 15 years old.  Quiet guy, about 10 years older than me.  “Oh man, Mike.  He’s been in the Air Force for years.  Where did you see him?”

He looked at me incredulously.  “At my work.”

“Where do you work?” I asked, getting annoyed with how drawn out the conversation was becoming.

“At the funeral home,” he said. “I work there part-time.  Didn’t you notice my job on my Facebook page?”

I had never seen Larry’s Facebook page in my life.  “What was Mike doing at the funeral home?  Who died?”  I figured it must be my Aunt Mary, Mike’s mother.  She must be near 85 by now, so she’d probably moved on to the next life and was somewhere up in heaven, possibly still on Weight Watchers.  All of my aunts have been on Weight Watchers since the 1970s and have probably lost about 10 pounds total among them in four decades.  Ours is a meaty, ever-hungry family.

“Mike’s dead.  He shot himself,” said Larry matter-of-factly.  “He gunned down his wife, shot her several times in the back, and then shot himself in the head.  Over in Corpus Christi, Texas where they were living for the past few years. They flew his body back here to be buried at home.”

I was stunned.  “Are you sure?”  I asked.

“Of course, I’m sure,” said Larry.  “I saw his body.  It was terrible.  It’s a terrible thing.  No funeral, though, just a graveside service.  You know, given the circumstances.”

“Jeez,” I said.  “I didn’t hear a thing about this.”

“Not even on Facebook?” asked Larry, pursing his lips in surprise.

“I’m not friends with any family members on Facebook,” I said.  “I don’t like to see my aunts’ and cousins’ endless tripe and trollop about their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  They’re too obsessed with one another’s lives.”  I was sure this explanation was a bit too detailed and bitter for Larry, who probably had plenty of photos of his own children, dressed in tiny camouflage outfits, posted all over social media.  As a single, childless, highly-educated and uncannily enlightened person devoted to the pursuit of freedom from family constraints, I was probably rapidly moving outside the tenuous barriers of meaningfulness contained in this bizarre conversation.

“Yeah,” said Larry, ignoring my last comment, “evidently the wife had a restraining order put out on your cousin and said in the police records that she was sure that he was capable of killing her and was seeking protection.  But before they could go to court, he beat her up a few times and then finally shot her.  In the back.  He shot himself in the head.  Oh wait, I already said that.  It’s online on some news sites if you want to Google it.  It happened about two or three months ago.  Back in September.”

“Two months ago?!? And I’m just now hearing about this?  Thanks, I…I guess I’ll look it up.  Good Lord,” I said, still trying to wrap my mind around the news.  “It was good to see you.  I need to get back to Raleigh.  I’m on my way back just now.”

“It’s so good to see you,” he said, grinning widely.  “Man, you look good.  I always thought you were really cute in high school.  I asked you out once, do you remember that?”

I didn’t.  But his words rang sweet and I felt a funny little high-schoolish boy crazy tingle like I used to get often back then.  I hugged him.  He smelled warm and musky and soapy.  It made me sad.  More sad than the news about my cousin.

“I do remember you asking me out,” I lied.  “It was so good to see you, Larry.  I’ll write to you.  On Facebook.”  For some reason, instead of saying “good-bye” I blurted out “ciao for now!”  The words were silly and pretentious and I jumped into the car.  My dog Tater was sitting in the passenger’s seat, staring at me intently.

I rubbed his head.  “All right, boy, we’re heading out now.  We’ll be back home soon.”  Tater licked the spot where his balls used to be.

I sat there behind the wheel for a few minutes, staring across the street at the tiny hospital where I was born.  I wondered if my cousin Mike had been born in that hospital.  I figured most of my family members were born there.   And a lot died there.   As I stuck the key in the ignition, I saw a smallish black bear trundling across the hospital grounds, away towards the edge of the woods surrounding the east side.

“What the fuck?”  I mumbled, surprised.  Bears should be hibernating already, shouldn’t they?  It looked like the bear had a giant white bird hanging limply in its jowls.

I turned the key and Run DMC’s song “Christmas in Hollis” was blasting:

It’s Christmas time in Hollis, Queens
Mom’s cooking chicken and collard greens
Rice and stuffing, macaroni and cheese
And Santa put gifts under Christmas trees
Decorate the house with lights at night
Snow’s on the ground, snow white so bright
In the fireplace is the yule log
Beneath the mistletoe as we drink egg nog
The rhymes you hear are the rhymes of Darryl’s
But each and every year we bust Christmas carols.

I looked over at Tater.  He’d already curled up and was asleep and snoring, happy in the knowledge we were leaving.  “Ciao, little town,” I said.  “I’ll see you at Christmas.”  I needed to get back to Raleigh and Google my cousin Mike’s name to find out what exactly had happened in Corpus Christi.  I wondered if the bear across the street was having one last meal before it was time to go down in his den.  I wondered if bears dream.

*Some of the names and the facts in this vignette have been changed. 

I looked over at Tater.  He’d already curled up and was asleep and snoring, happy in the knowledge we were leaving.  “Ciao, little town,” I said.  “I’ll see you at Christmas.”  I needed to get back to Raleigh and Google my cousin Mike’s name to find out what exactly had happened in Corpus Christi.  I wondered if the bear across the street was having one last meal before it was time to go down in his den.  I wondered if bears dream.

*Some of the names and the facts in this vignette have been changed. 

Brother and tomato

Today is Thursday. My pretty, blonde co-worker brought a blue grocery bag full of tomatoes in to work today. She’d picked them in her garden this morning. She left them on the counter by the coffee pot in the break room, inviting us to take as many as we wanted.
When everyone left the break room I picked up the smallest one. Deep red, perfectly ripe. I held the cool fruit to my cheek and then balanced it on the back of my hand and let it roll from my fingertips onto the floor.
“Smart girl,” sang my lips as I thought of that moment in the hospital when my little brother stopped breathing and I let go of his hand and asked the nurse if he was dead and she said,
I picked up the tomato. That touch of the sun. Washed it in the sink and bit into it, pale juice dribbling down my chin.
Eyes sparkling, I wonder if there is still black curly hair clinging to his lonely skull.  Me and him, our private signals are a dead language like this tomato.
 – Angela Perez

The Summer of ’88: W.A.S.P., weed, and Governor’s School

By Angela Perez


In the spring of 1988, when I was a junior in high school, I found out I had been nominated by my AG history teacher, Mr. Morgan, to attend Governor’s School West for the summer.   AG stands for “academically gifted” and somewhere back in the 4th grade about 15 of us schoolkids had been designated as super smart and we’d had the same classes together pretty much ever since.
The rest of the poor bastards at school were deemed “average” or “remedial” and since they were obviously never going to college, the teachers let them do fun things like take naps during class or color with big giant fat crayons. I should note that this was in high school. Meanwhile, the AG kids had to take endless quizzes about Shakespeare and the history of how happy the slaves were in the South.

One day, during history class, when we were supposed to be reading quietly about George Washington but I was drawing the Van Halen logo on my blue cloth 3-ring notebook, Mr. Morgan came up to my desk and in his very Southern accent said, “Angela, my dear, I need to talk to you about something after class.” He looked at me very seriously. Though, with his carefully coiffed bouffant dyed black hair, tightly trimmed thick mustache, and effeminate lisp, it was hard to take Mr. Morgan seriously.   “It’s VERY important,” he said, raising his eyebrows and tapping his college class ring on my desk.   My best friend Laura had once told me that grown men who wear college class rings after they’ve graduated from college are gay. I wondered if Mr. Morgan was gay and what gay men got up to when they took their clothes off together.

“Angela,” he said. “I mean it. This is serious.”

“Oh shit,” I thought. Had someone told him about me smoking weed up in the light booth with Wayne Phelps in the drama room? (Note: the drama classroom also served as the actual theatre where plays were performed. As you can see, our school administrators placed tremendous value on the dramatic arts.) Had he heard about me smoking cigarettes in the girls’ bathroom? Or maybe he heard about me copying April Trueblood’s answers to the algebra test we’d taken yesterday. No, wait, he wouldn’t care about algebra.   He was a history teacher.   Whatever Mr. Morgan wanted, I was sure it couldn’t be good because I had done too many bad things all year long. My days of weed, and cigarettes, and swilling Boone’s Farm in my boyfriend’s Camaro during lunchtime were numbered.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, the bell rang and everyone packed up their books and left class. Mr. Morgan came and sat at the desk next to mine. “Angela, I want to talk to you about something. I’ve nominated you to attend Governor’s School at Salem College in Winston-Salem this summer.”

“What’s that?” I asked incredulously.   I wondered if this was some kind of reform school for the intellectually gifted.   I wasn’t far off the mark. Mr. Morgan had plans for me.

“It’s a school for the best and brightest. You’ll be attending with other rising seniors from schools from all over the state. You’ll study art, music, literature, dance.   And the teachers are top notch. Plus, going to Governor’s School makes you a shoo-in for college.”

I furrowed my brow. I already had summer plans: slather myself in baby oil and bake to a dark brown in the front yard of my house and also to have lots of awkward sex with my boyfriend every day until he went off to college at NC State in the fall.   “Why me? There are lots of other AG kids who are doing better than me in school.”

Mr. Morgan nodded. “Lord knows, that’s true. But I happen to think you have more promise than any of them. We just have to get you away from this little town and away from that bad-news boyfriend of yours. He smokes pot, you know.   And I’ve seen him flirting with a lot of girls since you two have been dating.”

I felt sick. “Flirting with WHO? WHO?” I was going to knock some bitches up beside the head with a can of AquaNet that night at the softball game. I just needed some names.

“Don’t worry about that, Angela. Let’s just agree right now that you’ll go. Promise me. It won’t cost you anything.   Be sure to tell your parents that.”

“But I was going to make some money waiting tables at Mamma’s Pizza this summer,” I said plaintively. “Last summer Mr. Chalmer’s gave me a $50 tip and all he got was sub sandwich.”

“Trust me,” said Mr. Morgan getting very red faced, “Mr. Chalmer’s does NOT like girls.”   To this day, I wish I’d followed up on that particular reference by Mr. Morgan.   I wonder if they dated and it ended badly.

“Promise me, Angela, you’ll do this. You need to get away from the drama club miscreants and think about your future outside of this town.”

“Okay. Okay,” I nodded. “I’ll do it. Could be fun.”

And boy howdy, was it ever.


Early in the summer, I arrived on campus at Salem College having never been out of eastern North Carolina except for that one time when I was in 8th grade and my mom and her girlfriends took me on a road trip to Raleigh to shop at Crabtree Valley Mall.   On that particular trip, I got some neon green legwarmers and a portable butane-powered curling iron and we even ate at a Mexican restaurant called Chi-Chi’s.  After four margaritas, my mom exclaimed, “You know, chi-chi’s is the Mexican word for titties!” Her girlfriends giggled. I was mortified and asked for more nacho cheese dip. I’d never been to a Mexican restaurant before. Whatever those beef fajitas had to do with titties, it was damn sure good. I couldn’t wait to get home and tease up my hair with my new curling iron.

But I digress. So I arrive on campus in Winston-Salem.   After all the flurry and hubbub of my parents and brother moving in my suitcases and make-up cases and saying goodbye and after all the crying by my mom, they left and I sat there alone looking around the dorm room feeling very sad and uncomfortable and lonely.

My roommate, Heather, hadn’t arrived yet. I had received a letter from her in the mail one month before. The information packet we received from Governor’s School told us the name of the person we would be sharing a room with for five weeks and that person’s address in case we wanted to get to know one another beforehand. Heather had written me evidently the very day she received my address because I received a letter about four days after we’d all gotten our packets. The letter was written in a very large, curly-q cursive script that slanted oddly to the left.   It read:

“Hi Angela!!!! We’re going to be roomies soon. It will be totally like college!!! It’s going to be totally rad, don’t you think. I am from the big city of Charlotte! I have a boyfriend named Jeremy and I am going to super big-time miss him (we haven’t gone all the way! We are waiting until we get married after college. I’m going to be a doctor and he wants to be a lawyer. I want to have three children, hopefully all girls. In my free time I sing at church and volunteer at the hospital, which can be kind of gross sometimes but it will look good on my college applications. I plan to go to UNC-Charlotte or Harvard. I like all kinds of Christian music like Amy Grant.   I hope you like music because I am bringing all of my Amy Grant tapes with me and a boom box. We’re going to have SO MUCH fun!!! I can’t wait. TTYL (that means Talk To Ya’ Later in case you don’t know!!!). Bye – Heather”

I reread the letter.   I looked through my cassette collection: Dokken, KISS, Blondie, Def Leppard, Rush, Winger, Cinderella, AC/DC, Michael Jackson, Tears for Fears.   Fuck. I hate Amy Grant, thought I.

Back to Governor’s School. So there I sat on my very narrow bed waiting for my new best friend Heather to arrive. I must’ve fallen asleep waiting because the next thing I know, I feel a gentle pull on my hand and hear a girl squealing, “Angela, get up! I’m here. I want you to meet my boyfriend.”

That’s right, Heather was so mature and worldly that her parents had allowed her boyfriend to drive her up. My parents had barred my boyfriend, Tommy, from coming anywhere near the College. He and I had a tearful goodbye the night before (well, I cried and he mostly just tried to feel my boobs. “God, I’m going to miss these!” he moaned) and he vowed to sneak up every weekend and get us a hotel room. I didn’t know at the time these hotel sex fests were to be funded by his selling of weed and crack. Yes, that’s right. The entire time I was dating this fella, he was a crack head. I thought he just looked sleepy and mysterious, like Daryl on The Walking Dead. Little did I know, he was just high and tired and run down all the time. Still, his was the first penis I had ever seen and I didn’t question much beyond that.

So, I met Heather’s boyfriend who looked to be old to me. Like, maybe 21 or something. I remember he had a ponytail and wore cowboy boots and looked very stern. He shook my hand. “How do you do? I’m Jeremy,” he said in a voice way too serious. “I want you to keep an eye on Heather this summer. Keep the boys away.”

I looked at Heather and thought, that won’t be hard.  She was no looker. She resembled a run-down, overweight Molly Ringwald but with a perm.   The two of them sat on the bed and hugged and whispered and cried. I thought it was very unbecoming of a man to cry.   I wrinkled my nose in disgust and excused myself to the bathroom in the hallway.

Over the next few days, I was introduced to some seriously smart kids.   Looking back, I didn’t realize how smart. They had been exposed to EVERYTHING already. Some kids sat around in the dorm lounge and traded stories about trips to France, Germany, England, New York, and Tuscon, Arizona.   They pontificated on the composer John Cage and the book Fahrenheit 451. Some played the flute and cello and some knew the choreography of Martha Graham. Me, well, I knew all the lyrics to “Animal: Fuck Like a Beast” by the hair metal group W.A.S.P. I also was one of the few girls I knew who could successfully use hot rollers and who had read Lord of the Rings 30 times.

Heather and I fought endlessly over what music we were going to listen to in our room at night while we did homework. I was already pissed that I had homework. It was the fucking summer, for Christ’s sake.   I kept putting in my heavy metal tapes and she kept putting in her Amy Grant tapes.   It was war. I hated that straight-laced fat-faced Christian with the old man boyfriend.   His ponytail was S-T-U-P-I-D. If a dude had long hair, surely he should tease it up and dye it blonde and have bangs.

To make matters worse, I really missed my boyfriend, who I just knew was probably wearing the purple jogging pants and sweatshirt that I gave him for Christmas and flirting with other girls. I was miserable. He hadn’t come to visit like he’d promised and three weeks had gone by. And only two or three phone calls. I didn’t know at the time that being a crack-head takes up a lot of your free time and spare cash.

One day, I received a call on the pay phone in the dorm lounge. It was Tommy! He announced that he would indeed be coming up on a Friday afternoon. He was skipping school and planned to get us a hotel room. He was bringing Bartles and James wine coolers and we were going to party all weekend.   I found out later that he’d gotten the money for this trip by selling some of his mother’s gold necklaces and the family VCR.   But, hey, anything for the woman he loved!

I lied to the RA on my floor and told her that Tommy was my cousin and he was picking me up to go and stay with family in Greensboro for the weekend. I’m not sure how I got away with getting off campus but I remember realizing even back then it was easy to fool anyone if you just said your piece with confidence and an unflinching eye.

We leave campus and after about a 10-minute drive, Tommy pulls up to the “King’s Arms Motel” and says, “Come on, babe. Let’s get in the room. I’m ready for some sweet poon-tang.” Tommy was nothing if not a romantic.   Later, five minutes later to be exact, after we’d made sweet love and lounged naked on the stained, thread-bare polyester comforter, he lit up a cigarette and exclaimed his love for me. “I miss you so much,” he said. “Let’s get married before I go to college. I leave in a few weeks and I don’t want you having sex with anybody else.”

His reasoning seemed to make sense. Getting married so that I don’t screw someone else while he was away seemed a true vow of love.   He told me about the cover band he’d started since I left that summer. “We do Slayer songs and King Diamond songs,” he announced proudly. “I’m the lead singer. Though, I could be the lead guitarist too. David sucks at it but he’s the only one of us who has a guitar.” And then he serenaded me with his best heavy metal high-pitched falsetto voice: “Missy, I miss you so little sister!”

I immediately said yes to the marriage proposal.  We made love again, this time for 20 whole minutes.

Needless to say, Tommy and I never did get married. Because something changed in me during Governor’s School. Despite my best efforts to ignore the annoying nice people around me, I was exposed to authors, music, and film in ways that took some of the vague longings I’d been pushing back for years and concretized them into something real and urgent. The things I learned made the future very clear – I wanted knowledge. I wanted to explore the world. I wanted college. I wanted to be, above all else, a writer.

I don’t know whatever happened to Tommy. Someone told me that he’d briefly dropped out of college because he smoked too much weed and spent all of his money and time on it.   I also heard he eventually got his act together and went on to get his MBA, which makes sense because he’d run a pretty lucrative crack business when we were in high school and managed to keep it very secret from his girlfriend.

Heather and I weren’t speaking by the end of the summer.   Mainly because she was pretty sure I was a Satan worshipper. She found the back of my KISS Alive II cassette tape highly disturbing. Of course, to be fair, Gene Simmons’ hellish visage is covered in blood.

Since that summer, I have indeed traveled much of the world, lived overseas, learned to speak Russian fluently, and, well, I never did become a writer. But maybe one day. Maybe one day.
Oh, and by the way, thanks Mr. Morgan. For everything.

Memories: From Peckers in Raleigh to Pirozhki in Moscow (with collard greens with fatback on the brain)

by Angela Perez

My body takes issue with my intellectual pursuits.  In particular, with my adventures with food.  That’s right!  I consider food not a just a nagging means for survival or even some kind of guilty pleasure.

Cheese-laden grits and creamy coconut paletas unlock the meaning of universe, wrap my prune brain around the tragedy of man.

Musing on why all those super-jazzed always-nearly-jizzing young white guys with beards and tattoos sling craft beer and bake bread with ancient grains of Mesopotamia and wax poetic on authentic heritage hog bbq stimulates my mind.  Awwww, but fuck all that.  I haven’t felt like spinning yarns and navigating facts related to the intersections of food, race, class, and gender for a few hours now.

I’ll quit boring you about my foray into raising meat goats (as opposed to the kinder and more lovable pursuit of raising dairy goats – see, I want to roast these babies to make goat tacos and sell them.  …goddammit, I’m doing it again…I ought to apologize…).

Thing is, though, I’ve got no secret greetings.  No inane uplifting game plan.  Just a dusty hide stretched out and sagging from not spending enough time with just me.

People who can’t be alone scare the ever-loving shit out of me.  ‘Dem homosapien fumes and skin flakes all cloggin’ up my chi.   Endlessly making deals with myself to be happy, to achieve Nirvana…all wearing me slam the fuck out.

Angelita, that young woman of the people, vanished.   Endless fine distinctions regarding my expanding middle-aged body and mind are blue-veined and clear to me.   In all my years in Raleigh, I’ve observed a nightmare of eager peckers and shared living arrangements and over-priced fried chicken.  That foie gras torchon was the bomb though.

Finally, alert, I humbly request you hurl your attention at the bittersweet victories of Southern women.


That time I was the only girl at BBQ camp.

That new car smell: on seeing someone’s death

by Angela Perez

I saw someone’s death today.  I’m sure of it.

Earlier today, my insurance agent called me and said the company was ready to settle and I should go ahead and get everything out of my old car and take the tags off.  At lunchtime, I drove over to the salvage yard where my wrecked car had been towed after my accident last week.   As I pulled up in the rental car behind my old Nissan Versa, I started to feel emotional.  That old car was the first new car I ever bought and I bought it around the time my brother, Big Tony, died.  I bought that car when I was dating a man I almost married but, thank God, had the sense to run far, far away from. That car had taken me to my new home in eastern Oregon and then brought me (with my new dog Tater in tow) back to the East coast to Washington DC and finally back to Raleigh, where I recently decided to finally settle my wild, unruly ass down and buy a house.  To commit.
I realized as I was sorting through winter coats and all sorts of books stuffed in the hatchback that somehow, I needed this accident to happen.  To get rid of this old car and buy a new one to go with my new house and my newfound adulthood.  I mean, that’s part of what being an adult is, being able to commit, right?
Despite my lovely revelations, as I sorted through expensive art magazines I had forgotten I even had, I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself.  “Jesus,” I said aloud.  “this new car is going to blow all the money I was going to save from my mortgage.”  You see, my mortgage is exactly HALF of the rent I was paying.  I had been imagining all of the dollars building up in my bank account (namely so I can put in a salt water swimming pool in my back yard.)  As I was mumbling and wallowing in self-pity,  I chanced to look at the wrecked car directly in front of me.  The black Subaru Outback had been brutally smashed in the front and was was crumpled up to the windshield, the hood had somehow popped up and sheared through the windshield.  My God, I thought, shuddering, whoever was in that accident is probably dead.  Probably never even knew what happened.  Or if he or she did, I could only imagine the bloody hell of that scene.
I then looked around me at all of the other wrecked cars spanning the salvage yard, sullenly staring at me, all representing various tragedies, losses, and heartaches.  There were endless horrific mangled hunks of metal that once were gleaming brand new showroom cars.  I felt my heart catch in my chest and I began to cry.   I cried for all of the people who weren’t lucky like I was last week.   I thought back to that moment as my car smashed into the back of a truck and how in those miliseconds all I had time to think of was “OH SHIT”  and how that was probably the last thought that ever ran through the heads of so many of the people who had once driven these cars and then they only knew darkness or worse.
I walked around the yard and looked at each car.  As I came back to my car, one of the men who worked in the garage came out and asked me if I wanted any help getting some of the heavier items out of my car.  I told him no and thanked him.  And then I said, “I’ve just started to realize how hard it must be to work here.  Everything out here, every car that comes in represents new pain, a new tragedy.”
He nodded his head in grim agreement.  “I’ve been here a year,” he said, “and it’s always hard.  No one who comes to this place has had a good day.  And seeing some of these wrecked cars and knowing how awful some of these accidents must have been, well, it does, it gets to me. There’s a lot of blood in some of these cars.”
I felt my insides restrict and shudder.  “I’m sorry to even bring that up,” I said.
“No, no need to apologize,” he said, “you’re right.  There’s a lot of bad energy here.”  He turned to head back to the garage.  “Holler if you need me,” he said and sauntered away, looking not at the cars around him but directly at the ground in front of him.
I gathered up the last of mostly junk left in that old Nissan Versa, stashed it all in the trunk of the rental car and hauled ass out of there, holding back more tears, and feeling more grateful for being alive than I have in a long, long time.

Raleigh, NC court hands jail sentences to 4 dogs

by Angela P., a butler and reporter

On Monday, a Raleigh, NC court sentenced 4 dogs to 11 days in jail. The dogs were accused of pouncing on and repeatedly licking a married couple, Skylar and Barry Bateman, at a local downtown park that left the couple covered in dog hair and saliva, in a trial that raised an outcry from single people and dog lovers.

The verdicts against the dogs, said to each belong to 4 unmarried, unrelated owners, are subject to appeal and will likely be overturned, according to 2 dog lovers who have law degrees.

Gang member, a pug named Burly Q, says the couple got what was coming to them.

Gang member, a pug named Burly Q, says the couple got what was coming to them.

In a press conference after the trial, the ring leader of the 4 dogs, a Welsh corgi named Harvey, said, “We weren’t gonna hurt ‘em. But, you know, they were talking smack about our butlers.”  When asked what he meant by “butlers”, Harvey replied, “You know. The people who pet us and bring us food and treats and stuffed animals and stuff.”

In court, the defendants testified that they each overheard the married couple having a conversation that was highly offensive. Harvey noted, “The woman said stuff like, ‘Why do single people act their dogs are kids? It’s pathetic.They need to have children like God intended. They’re too attached to these dogs. ‘ And the man said, ‘Dogs belong outside. Or at least not on the bed. If a woman wants a bed partner, she needs to get a man. It’s just sad.’ What if my butler Julie heard that? She hasn’t had a date in, like, 7 years.”  When asked if he was referring to dog years, Harvey replied, “I wish. Poor thing.”

During the tense trial, it was determined that one of the gang members, a chihuahua named Nacho, urinated on Skylar Bateman’s New Balance trainers.“Unthinkable,” said the married prosecutor, Jerry Jones, who is the father of two unattractive children.

One of the dog gang, a hound and poodle mixed-breed dog named Hoochie-Poo said, “The four of us were chasing around a peanut-butter stuffed ball when we heard them talking shit. The final straw was when the lady said that pit bull mixes didn’t belong in a people park.We’re friends with a bunch of pit bull mixes. She said they are unstable and ought to be in their own separate parks away from playing children for safety’s sake. Well, that’s when we all saw red and Harvey just went for it. So we did too.”

The swiftness and the harshness of the sentence deepened concerns that Raleigh’s court system is biased towards married people with children, even those with pets.“It’s like their lives are fuller and better somehow because they have kids,” said Burly Q, a pug who was also part of the pouncing gang.  “They can kiss our hind parts. Our single butlers rule!”

The dogs’ butlers are expected to appeal the sentence.

That time I had a spinal tap in Budapest and how cauliflower recently made me contemplate suicide.

I’ve lost 9 pounds in about two weeks since I changed up some things in eating.  But enough about all that good news.

Last Friday, I bawled and sniffled and sobbed for a couple of hours.    Doomed!  Dying!  Brazen!  If you aren’t sinning – and that includes with food and drink – then you aren’t living.  That’s been my motto for a quarter of century.   Now, here in my 40s, I have to reduce the epically pointless purpose of the universe down to something I can manage that will also allow me to cling to this paltry planet for a few more years.   It will be through fun low-carb cauliflower soup recipes, right?  KILL ME RIGHT FUCKING NOW.

So, last week, the tears came out of nowhere after an easy meeting with a colleague.  Said meeting wasn’t stressful but I could feel myself distracted.   Thinking about the pills I now have to take to control the diabetes my doc diagnosed me with a couple of weeks ago.   Just a few minutes after the meeting in my office, I looked out the window as a little bird flitted past and the damn broke.

The stress of being told I have a disease and then figuring out how to live with it finally gotten to me.  Sure, sure…I know, it will all be fine.  A million people live with it and have happy happy lives.  But I need some time to accept the diagnosis of a disease and one that, if not handled properly, can lead to a lot of bad, bad things.


After crying for a while, I realized that, in some ways, it’s the best thing to happen to me in a long time.   My relationship with food has to change.  That relationship is bound up in my ideas about adventure, about pleasure through the work of brilliant chefs, of a lifestyle of good, rich eating and drinking with no limits.  No accounting for calories, carbs, alcohol poisoning etc.  because somehow that makes the whole endeavor seem less of an adventure and more of a chore.  The side effect of that has been to gain more and more weight every year and to exercise less and less.   I FUCKING HATE EXERCISING.  There, I said it.  But somehow, every fat person I know who got thin now joyfully runs marathons and bought a $3,000 bike.  So there must be something to it, some path to joyful sweating (can’t that just be sex??) where you join up with other fit people who share your hobby and talk about chaffing and learn a new lingo.    When I have lost weight in the past, I worked out in the gym 5 – 6 days a week.  I never loved it.  But I knew I had to.  What I loved was how sculpted my muscles got, but I didn’t have a lick of fun achieving those sexy ripples.

Nowadays I must count the carbs of everything that goes into my body.  Whoa Nelly, I never knew how loaded everything on the planet that’s edible is loaded with sugars – either natural or processed.  For someone who now should only have about 40 – 50 grams of carbs per meal, I discovered that an apple cinnamon bagel has 51 grams and no nutritional value.  That’s the thing, even if I blow my carb load on something tasty, I now need to think about how much nutritional value it packs. [NOTE – this switching to 40 – 50 grams of carbs per meal really has worked for me – I haven’t veered from those numbers and I have lost almost 10 pounds in 2 weeks.  If that will continue, I really don’t know.  But I’ve been working very closely with my doctor on this and all is well so far.]

But here’s the rub – while this seems really difficult to me, I am discovering that there are a lot of healthy people without diabetes who live like this every day – just so they can be thin and feel good and end up with a disease where they might go blind or have their left foot amputated.


Even in my healthiest, thinnest days, my svelteness could be attributed to alcohol, lots of walking, and cigarettes.   Even when I was counting calories and fat, I wasn’t thinking much about nutrition.  Just how to stay within my allotted numbers and not suffer.

These past two weeks I fell into a deep depression, thinking that I was doomed to raw veggies and stir-fry.  I just didn’t know what was low-carb or how to cook low-carb beyond that.

But now I’m learning.  For my birthday, a friend gave me a Paleo cookbook (the Paleo way of cooking, for the most part, works well for diabetics who need to cut the bread and pasta our of their lives.  Though, the Paleo folks who don’t have diabetes seem to make the food so yummy by using a lot of high-carb veggies).  I went over to Quail Ridge books and found that there is, in fact, a diabetic cooking section (ah!  I’m not the only one dealing with this fucking thing).  And so begins the foray into how to cook well with an eye towards not spiking my blood sugar and cutting out the high-carb stuff.

I’m in my 40s now.  I don’t feel invincible like I did in my 20s and 30s – and I wreaked havoc on my body and partied like a lunatic for all those years.   Once, during my mid-20s, while studying in Budapest, Hungary (I lived there for over 2 years),  I was partying so much at the local dive bar taverns with my best Hungarian friend Agnes that I had to go into the hospital there.  Actually, Agnes was my roommate and she only partied with me part of the time.  I was too debauched for most Hungarian female students so I had to find some hard-drinking boys to hang with.  They are easy to come by in Eastern Europe, thought, they don’t always have all of their teeth.

The over-the-top debauchery and lack of eating anything by goulash led me to a major vitamin deficiency and I had to be hospitalized.  For some reason, a spinal tap was ordered.    Trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve had a spinal tap in a communist-era hospital (well, it was right after communism but the architecture was still all-Stalin.   I remember the actual spinal tap.  I sat in the middle of a dreary, bleak room.  The doc, a young fella who spoke only broken English, told me to take off my top, and sit backwards on the metal chair.  There in that cold, empty room he proceeded to prod deep into my spine with a massive needle more than once (he said he couldn’t quite get to the fluid) – the pain was so excruciating that I screamed out “FUUUUUUUUUCK YOOOOOOOOOU” for about two minutes and then wailed for a bit and then decided to shut up because perhaps he might just hate Americans and be fucking with me on purpose.  Americans, in their Tevas and Washington Redskins t-shirts, are not well-loved in much of Eastern Europe, no matter what you might think.

The site of my first and only spinal tap. I lived in Budapest for over two years and also returned back there to work for several months. Between the Bull's Blood and the cheap apricot brandy, I almost caught up with the Hungarian drinking habits before my body gave out. I'm good, but I ain't that good.

The site of my first and only spinal tap. I lived in Budapest for over two years and also returned back there to work for several months. Between the Bull’s Blood and the cheap apricot brandy, I almost caught up with the Hungarian drinking habits before my body gave out. I’m good, but I ain’t that good.

After the spinal tap, I was wheeled into a room on a squeaky cart and told I had to lay completely flat, not even lifting my head, for 24 hours.  Not a problem unless you are sharing a room with an insane old woman named Marta who screams incessantly something about a dog named Jozsi and how she doesn’t have all the right ingredients to make Hortobágyi palacsinta (Hungarian crepes made with veal and a creamy paprika sauce – they are my favorite Hungarian dish).

That night, the batteries in my Sony Walkman  started to die just as the old lady began a new round of especially loud screaming.   The only CD I had with me was U2s “Zooropa” and, as the music slowed waaaaay down until there was nothing left to hear but the long, muddy warbling of Bono, I felt my only tether to sanity slipping away.  It was then that I decided to slow down the partying and drink less Bull’s Blood (that was the name of the wine me and my fellow Hungarian students swilled by the gallon.  It cost roughly the equivalent of a $2.00 a bottle and it was damned good.)

Long story short, the partying and wild times, well, I’ve had a good time doing it all.  God knows I have.   The thing is, not only can I NOT live like that anymore.  I just don’t want to.  Honestly, it bores the hell out of me.    But so does raw bell pepper and measuring out almond flour by the tablespoon full.   So, I’ve got to find a way to make this new relationship with food and drink just as interesting and exciting as my other relationships with food and drink.

I shall become a brilliant chef of all things low-carb.  Sexy food photos to follow.  I won’t preach about it or proselytize – I’ll just share my journey.   For those of you who are contemplating changes in diet and health, I’ll tell you this – no one – NO ONE – is less inclined to a mostly veggie diet than me.  But there’s got to be a way to make this work.

Oh Bojangles!  I miss you!  But a cute little black dress from Neiman Marcus needs me!

Oreo Blizzard from Sonic!  Sayonara!  But a bikini calls me.

Food porn and shopping porn to follow.  Ciao, my lovelies.

Oh gin-soaked revelries.  Adieu!


Part Two: The happy and sad story of ancient Washington County, North Carolina

by Angela Perez

When I got back to my dad’s house in Plymouth after driving around Washington County on Monday, I was agitated.  After taking all those photos of beautiful things mostly forgotten, now hidden under sinews of thick vines; of rotten shacks and crumbling mansions that people look past and just don’t notice much anymore, well, my heart felt heavy and my belly was bound up in tight achey knots.

“Dad,” I said, “I need to get back to Raleigh.”

He was sitting at the kitchen table.  He wrinkled his nose and looked down at his hands.

“I guess there’s not much for you to do when you come to visit, is there?”

“I came here to see you, dad,” I said.  “The rest doesn’t matter.”

(NOTE: my dad is almost 80 years old.  He looks good for his age, but, still, whenever my cell phone rings after 8 p.m. I immediately get stressed out that someone has called to tell me he’s died.  When you hit your 40s, late evening phone calls no longer come from eager lovers, they come from other family members telling you that some other family member is dead and gone, God rest his or her soul.)

I had told him the day before about how the state of things around the town I grew up in affected me in such a dark and pressing way.

“Guess you won’t want to come back here again,” he said.   “I don’t blame you.”

He got up and hugged me, and it made my bones sad.

“Oh, I’ll be back,” I said.  “There’s a lot of beauty along these rivers and streets.  An enormous story to tell.   History to be restored.   A community that cares, I think.  I don’t know who they are yet.  But I will.”  I really should have mentioned that the chili-cheeseburger special at Little Man had always been my biggest draw to come home, but he didn’t seem to be in a joking mood.

“When are you coming back?” he asked.

“Soon, pop, real soon.”

I’d already put my luggage in the car earlier so I called for my dog Tater and he hopped in.  As we backed out of the driveway, I saw my dad watching us from the back door as we drove off.  He was waving.

Since last weekend, I can’t get Washington County off of my mind.  There’s a calvary of ghosts in coveralls and homespun cotton dresses that’s been haunting me ever since.   The spirit of that place is not a dream.  But how will I fly this thing?

To read PART ONE, click here.

One more thing:  this conversation isn’t verbatim, but you get the gist.

One of the historic buildings on Water Street that has been left to fend for itself.  I like how the awnings are so different but the window is split between the buildings.

One of the historic buildings on Water Street that has been left to fend for itself. I like how the awnings are so different but the window is split between the buildings.

Bittersweet Southerners: What our reaction to the Sun Kil Moon incident says about us

by Angela Perez

I won’t give you the details of the actual incident from the Sun Kil Moon show during the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, N.C. – that’s been covered ad nauseam.  What I want to talk about here is why Southerners – especially the North Carolinians – got so goddamned bent out of shape about it.    This incident sparked by the precious little singer from the band wasn’t really that big of a deal – calling the audience a bunch of hillbillies and telling them to shut the fuck up.  But our overheated reaction here in the South points to a much larger phenomenon, one that most Southerners deal with regularly when they leave the Southland and, quite frankly, we’re just fucking sick of.     The bitterness you might have gotten a sense of has been come by honestly.  I’ll tell you how I came by mine.

Back in the 90s as an undergraduate, I studied in Budapest, Hungary for two years.  While there, I lived in a dorm with other American students, most of them from the northeast.  That very first semester, during our orientation to the ways of Hungarian universities, I met a moderately good-looking guy from the University of New Hampshire.  We’ll call him Clive.  Clive and I got to be sort of friends, often discussing Hungarian literature while having coffee together in the dorm’s snack bar.  Towards the end of that semester, I passed Clive on my way to class and he stopped me and said, “You know, Angela, I was thinking about something you said about Ady Endre last week [he’s a Hungarian writer] and I realized you are really actually pretty damn smart – you know, to be from the South.  When I first heard your accent, well, you know, I wasn’t sure about you.”

I walked away dazed.  After all, living in Hungary was one of my first extended stays outside of the South.  And my first exposure to the fact that people who were not from the South might have a rather outmoded vision of people conducting endless swooning Gone-With-the-Wind shenanigans and cavorting Hee Haw antics.

The resentment blossoms further

A few years later, while I was at Duke University working (and drinking and fornicating) towards my Master’s degree, I often encountered students from the northeast (they seemed to make up a large part of the campus population) who made comments about my Southern accent, laughing and wondering at the fact I could be so intelligent.   On many occasions as I took the bus from East campus to West campus and listened to wealthy little blonde prep-school girls from up North speak in clipped tones about partying it down at Martha’s Vineyard, I dreamed of rubbing them all down with fatback grease and Duke’s mayonnaise and throwing them into a pit of wild dogs.   But that was just bitterness taking over.  I was taught better than that.  So I never did rub any blonde girls down with pork or anything.

For a long time, while I was at Duke studying Russian language and literature, I tried to hide my Southern accent so as not to be discounted as dumb, or, at least not as smart as everyone else there.  And since I wasn’t able to hide the battered blue Chrysler LeBaron I rolled up in and parked daily next to dozens of Lexus, BMW, and Mercedes luxury rides, well, I could indeed hide the accent.  I could swath my Southerness with a disarming cloud of New England erudition. I’d seen it played out enough on Duke’s campus.  But one day, in the midst of all that painful play-acting, I faltered.

I was standing in line at one of the campus cafeterias, passing through the buffet line, telling the women behind the hot table which items I’d like to have.  There amidst the steaming steel pans of food, I spotted collard greens.  What the fuck?  Why would anyone cook collard greens and cast those pearls before those Northern swine?  The tray of collards was full.  Naturally, no one had chosen them.  But I wanted them.  Badly.  Collard greens are my favorite vegetable in the whole wide world.  But to order those collard greens would expose me.  Ah, but that smell!  So I not only went for it, I went one better.

I asked the woman serving food if I could have an extra-large bowl of the collard greens.  The woman, a plump, middle-aged black woman in a hair net, looked at me a little bit surprised.  “Oh, okay,” she said, “sure.”

“I can’t believe you even have collard greens,” I said.

“We don’t serve a lot of them for sure.  But we offer them from time to time.”

“One question,” I said, “did you happen to cook these in fatback and if you did, can I have a piece of it?”

She almost dropped her spoon.  “Little girl,” she said, “what do you know about fatback?”

“I know I want some,” I said.  “Have you got any?”

“Wait a minute,” she said.  And she disappeared into the kitchen.  About two minutes later she emerged with a Styrofoam bowl overflowing with three cooked pig tails.  There were two other women with her.

“Girl, we had to come out here and see who was ordering up fatback,” she said, with a broad smile.  “We made these collards with pig tails.  If you want ‘em, we want you to have them.  I can’t believe this.”

I smiled back.  “Hell yes, I want them.  Thank you so much.  Finally, I feel like home here.  This means a lot to me.”

They all laughed and the third woman said, “You can have all the pigtails you want sweetheart.”

After I sat down and ate my pigtails and collard greens, I decided that I was going to be ashamed no longer.  I was living a lie.  Not only was I brilliant, I had a rich, exotic, horrible, wonderful history coming from the South and a beautiful accent that was slow and easy – for me, well, I take words and roll them around in my mouth, savor them, play with them, and use them to mean a lot of things at one time.   What’s to be ashamed of?

Granted, since the Duke days, I have lived in other places outside of the South and experienced the same sort of reaction – wonder at my words and turns of phrase.  Once, when I was living in Oregon, while at the checkout counter at the supermarket, the clerk said something about the weather.  I responded and he stopped mid-scan of a bag of curly fries and said,

“Oh, wow.  You’re from the South!”

“Yes,” I said, a bit wearily.  “I am indeed.”

“You know,” he said, “I like grits.  I really do.  And one of my favorite movies is from the South.  It’s that movie, ‘You Might Be a Redneck If’ – you know it, don’t you?”

I started to say, “Asshole, that’s no movie.  It’s a stand-up comedy routine by a Southern comedian, Jeff Foxworthy.”  But I didn’t say it.  Because I am too polite to say things like that.  I just laughed and said, “Yeah, boy, that’s a good ‘un.”

The point of all of these fascinating little vignettes from my life is to show that Southerners deal with this parochial bullshit all of the time from people who don’t seem to know any better.  And yet those same people are themselves demonstrating a fundamental lack of knowledge of the world.  It’s amazing in this day and time that anyone could be this uneducated about the South.  I don’t even need to shout out the laundry list of authors, filmmakers, musicians, chefs, etc. from this part of the world who have influenced or even changed the entire trajectory of those art forms and of American culture.  But we remain mired in and conflated with the worst parts of our history and present.

So, yes, Southerners, in this case Raleigh-Durham residents, get wildly bent out of shape (and actually, more wearied than anything) when the lead singer from a cute little precious melancholy band from San Francisco yells out “fuck you hillbillies” during a show.    It’s just so very damned backwards.  Sad, really.  Just sad.

We don’t want black kids walking down Main Street: a brief history of 4th Street Elementary in Plymouth, NC

by Angela Perez

My post a few months ago about the history of Washington County in eastern North Carolina was the most popular post in the history of this blog.   The story and photos got several thousand shares and thousands and thousands of hits.  The photos of the rubble of my former elementary school, 4th Street School, were especially popular with folks from Washington County.  Many Plymouth residents fondly remember attending that little brick school on the corner of Andrew Jackson and 4th streets.

What many people don’t know is the controversial history behind the school.  It was originally built for black students in the 1920s through grant money from the Rosenwald Fund, a fund created in 1917 by Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears, Roebuck and Company.  The fund was intended to improve education for African-American students in the South, primarily through the building of schools for them since they could not attend school with white students.

Throughout the 1920s, W.F. Creadle, the supervisor of the Rosenwald Fund in Raleigh, corresponded with the Washington County school superintendent, John W. Darden, about procuring money for a school for black students in Plymouth.   On July 14, 1925, Creadle wrote to Darden with some exasperation:  “I am aware of the fact that we have written and conferred a great deal about the colored school situation at Plymouth, but I am still wondering if there is not some way we can do something about it…the colored people are anxious to raise money to help on the building and I have said to you before, we shall be glad to give you $1,500 from the Rosenwald Fund.”  The black community in Plymouth was, apparently, ready to take advantage of the available grant money but no action was being taken by the Washington County Board of Education.

Finally, in the summer of 1929, the Washington County board, intending to use the Rosenwald funds as well as other money from other sources, voted to buy land from a man named Van Buren Martin for a price well over its appraised value.  Why the board was insistent that the school be located here is not clear, though one National Parks survey document from 1990 speculates the reason was political pressure and cronyism. It was indeed close to the historically black neighborhoods, but there were other near-by parcels of land also available on which to build the school.

Not only was the property overpriced, it was next to railroad tracks, and it was close to the well-to-do white residential neighborhood on Main Street.  Because the land around the school that was linked to the black neighborhoods was private property, the students would have to take a longer way to school every day by walking through a neighborhood where they were not welcomed.   The land was purchased and the school was built anyway, despite heavy coverage of public criticism from the local newspaper, the Roanoke Beacon.    In 1931, due to an outcry by the white community, however, the property between the black neighborhoods and the school was quickly obtained and 4th Street and 3rd Street, which existed but did not extend to the school grounds, were extended so that black students no longer walked past white houses and offended the sensibilities of the well-to-do.  The children originally came to the school by way of Andrew Jackson Road which intersected with the white neighborhood of Main Street.  That way in to school was quickly diverted by the 4th and 3rd street extensions and the universe returned to its proper balance.

After desegregation, that Rosenwald School became 4th Street School, which I attended in the 70s.    Growing up in Plymouth, I never once heard that the school had been a Rosenwald School.  Little did I know back then, as our bus pulled up next to the building to drop us off at the door (which was on Crowell Street), that these tiny streets had caused so much controversy in Plymouth, all in the name of making sure black people stayed where they belonged.

I vividly remember singing John Denver songs in the auditorium with black and white kids and having the time of my life.  And, oh yeah, I remember a freckle-faced girl named Rita Spruill throwing up her pizza all over me in the lunchroom, which was located in a separate building from the school that was built much later.  I remember that lunchroom pizza we got every Friday – it was rectangle shaped and tasted like Totino’s.  God, it was good.

Correction:  I had originally written in one photo caption that Mr. Estep was principal when I attended 4th Street.  But it was, in fact, Mrs. Rascoe.  Mr. Estep was my principal at Washington Street School.

4th Street Elementary.  This was the where the busses dropped us off.

4th Street Elementary. This was the where the school bus dropped us off.

4th Street Elementary.  Mrs. Rascoe was principal here when I attended.  And my two favorite teachers were Mrs. Cordon and Mrs. Benners.

4th Street Elementary. Mrs. Rascoe was principal here when I attended. And my two favorite teachers were Mrs. Cordon and Mrs. Benners.  Those stairs used to seem so monumental to my eyes.

4th Street Elementary.  We used to sing John Denver songs in the auditorium, which was just through that entryway.

4th Street Elementary. We used to sing John Denver songs in the auditorium, which was just through that entryway.

4th Street Elementary School, where I went to K-2 grades.  Nothing left.  I still have dreams about this place the way it looked in the 70s.  And I remember Rita Spruill throwing up her little rectangle of lunchroom pizza all over the table.

4th Street Elementary School, where I went to K-2 grades. Nothing left. I still have dreams about this place the way it looked in the 70s. And I remember Rita Spruill throwing up her little rectangle of lunchroom pizza all over the table.

Shock me, make me feel better: sugar in my veins and the plague of mortality

Aw, things ain’t bleak at all.  My long-dead and mouldering libido returns!  But I don’t recognize the cut of its jib and I am suspicious of it.  I shan’t welcome that thing with open arms just yet.

As many of you know from my recent blogs, life has been a hellacious emotional roller-coaster since my Type 2 diabetes diagnosis.  Focusing on my health, mind, and soul has kept me from documenting all things Southern – though, I suppose, as a Southern woman, telling you about my relationship with the universe IS indeed documenting Southerness.

About two weeks ago, one of my docs said cut all that bad-for-you shit out and guess what?  I actually listened to him.  Because I was too scared by how bad I felt not to.  The resulting healthy changes in diet (not really exercise yet), in addition to losing 10 pounds, well, let’s just say that my eye doc told me my eye sight has, in fact, gotten better since he saw me a month ago.    Evidently, my blood sugar was so high then that it was affecting my vision.   Now that I have gotten my sugar levels below 180, my eyesight has improved.  My glasses are too strong!  Sweet.  Very sweet.

Between the weight loss and improved vision, that anxiety building to a fever pitch has been quelled somewhat.  I figure that I will probably NOT die in my sleep and go blind by the weekend.   Knock on wood.

My message to you is this – if you are overweight and haven’t had your blood sugar levels checked, you should.  If you’ve ever heard the words “pre-diabetic” or even been told by your doc that your blood sugar looks high but you just attribute it to that Bojangles chicken biscuit you ate on the way there, don’t take a chance.  I am catching my diabetes early and, at the moment, it looks like I can turn things around dramatically.   And if you are perennially thick around the middle, ask your folks and grandparents if they have diabetes.  You will be shocked to find out how many people around you have it.  And that proclivity, combined with your penchant for all that glorious fatness can easily (though not always) equal to diabetes.

I still don’t love the healthy food MORE than the croissants, biscuits, pizza, and sausage gravy – but I love how I FEEL these days much more than those things.

In the words (well not exactly but similar) of Dostoevsky, it seems, in fact, as though the second half of a my life will be made up of living out the ramifications – good and bad  – of the habits I accumulated during the first half.  

Only that youthful sense of immortality makes you want to burn the candles at both ends in your 20s and 30s.   In the second half, that inevitable plague of knowing you are indeed mortal, well, once cursed with it, living badly is just plain fucking foolish unless you are okay with speeding up your dance with death and suffering.  But hey, death and suffering come to us all, so, forget what I said.  Do what you like.    

Even this woman won't live forever. And one day that ass will droop low. Despite the inevitability of old age, death, suffering, wrinkles, and droop, we can still make the journey less painful but indulging in a modicum of healthy behavior.

Even this woman won’t live forever. And one day that ass will droop low. Despite the inevitability of old age, death, suffering, wrinkles, and droop, we can still make the journey less painful by indulging in a modicum of healthy behavior.


Part One: The happy and sad story of ancient Washington County, North Carolina

by Angela Perez

I am no historian.
But I have a heavy burden on my heart and the raw ache of nostalgia over the state of things in one tiny place in North Carolina.

Poverty and decay seems to be the order of the day back home in Washington County, N.C. where I was born and raised. These days, the rural northeastern county manges to pick up some business from oblivious tourists anxious to get down Highway 64 to the Outer Banks, but other than that, there just isn’t much happening here.  More than 27 percent of the county’s population is listed as living below the poverty line, according to NC Policy Watch, and the massive layoffs over the past decade by what was once the county’s largest employer, the pulp and paper company Weyerhaeuser, have decimated much of the lower-middle to middle-class.

A drive around the county seat, Plymouth, reveals rotting old mansions and dilapidated colonial-era homes.  The historic downtown located along the serene Roanoke River has a few shops scattered along Main Street but many of the buildings are empty and falling down.  Some of these beautiful old relics don’t even have back walls and you can look through the grimy busted-out windows to see the Roanoke River rolling endlessly along behind them.   Many of the schools and churches I attended or country stores and restaurants my family frequented are just mostly rubble.
And yet, despite the lack of jobs and persistent poverty, people remain here and raise their families and survive.   Outside of the only three towns that are incorporated – Creswell, Plymouth, and Roper – there are endless miles of farms, growing tobacco, corn, cotton, and soybeans.  The eastern part of the county, heading into Tyrrell County towards the Outer Banks, boasts massive poultry farms.   Fishing in the Roanoke River, Albemarle Sound, and Lake Phelps (the 2nd largest lake in NC) provides food and recreation.   Lake Phelps is a major attraction for fishermen and birdwatchers.  The 38,000 year-old lake draws thousands of wild geese and tundra swan in the winter months.   Indian artifacts dating back 11,000 years have been found in the area and there are still prehistoric canoes buried around the lake.   Scientists have not been able to determine its origin – theories are that it was a meteor, glacial activity, high winds or underground springs.  I have spent many, many hours wandering around the water, wondering about the slaves who died here and the Indians who fished there.
The beautiful and well-preserved Somerset Place sits along Lake Phelps, offering a comprehensive view of life on a North Carolina plantation in the 1800s.  The site documents and reveals both the white owners’ and the slaves’ daily lives.  Several Civil War attacks and skirmishes occurred in Washington County and there are markers all around Plymouth denoting the locations.  The Carolina Algonquians cherished Scuppernong grapes, a variety of muscadine grape that originated in this part of N.C.  One of the county’s townships is still named Scuppernong and you can discover vines growing on most every farm and in most of the yards and around churches.  Kids growing up here grow up knowing well the tart tang of those fat, thick-skinned grapes.
Needless to say, there’s endless history in this county and while some has been preserved, so much of it is falling to the ground in a county too poor to pay for the overwhelming amount of preservation called for.   It’s been many years since I moved away from this region where most of my family still resides.  My grandfather fished every body of water in and around this county all the way from Martin County to the Outer Banks.  It is part of my psyche and when I visit, I feel sad that time just sort of left this place behind and its residents to fend for themselves.  But fend they have.  My heart aches when I see these places so full of history turned back to the dust from the whence they came.  Places like Washington County – indeed, many of the counties along Highway 64 from Raleigh to the Outer Banks are dying a slow death.  Still, there’s a lot of beauty if you just peer in close enough.  Here’s what that looks like to me in that sweet sad old county.
Author’s note: after you view the photos, click here for Part Two. 

“I’ll be John Brown”: How America’s most patriotic song kinda started out as a pro-slavery tune

by Angela Perez

As a child in Washington County, that swampy primordial stretch of flat land in the northeast of North Carolina, I often heard my mother, my aunts, and my grandparents use the phrase “I’ll be John Brown” to express surprise and amazement, along with a twinge of disdain and a touch of judgement.   They’d exclaim, “I’ll be John Browned” or “I’ll be John Brown” as a polite way to express “I’ll be damned.”

John Brown has been the inspiration for anti-slavery and pro-slavery advocates, for antilynching efforts, for the Civil Rights movement and a reference point for polarizing events throughout American history.

John Brown has been the inspiration for anti-slavery and pro-slavery advocates, for antilynching efforts, for the Civil Rights movement and a reference point for polarizing events throughout American history.

For example, if the preacher’s wife had on a short dress on Sunday, my grandmother might come home from church and say, “I’ll be John Brown if she won’t near-bout showing her you-know-what.”  Or if my mother was truly baffled by a question and had no answer, she’d reply, “Hmmm…I’ll be John Browned if I know.”

My guess is that although they invoked John Brown’s name often, my family had no idea who the man was or how the expression came into being.  Little did my dear, departed grandmother know that the phrase “I’ll be John Brown” is loaded with decades of painful and inspiring history linked to slavery in the U.S.

Recently, I got to thinking about this peculiar phrase I often heard uttered by my loved ones.   I remember learning somewhere along the way in high school history (when I wasn’t shaving my legs in class or writing short romance narratives featuring me and whichever boy I was in love with at the moment) that Brown was a fierce abolitionist who led a failed and bloody insurrection against slavery at a federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859.   With a band of 16 white men and 5 slaves, he captured the armory but was overpowered in just two days.  At that time, his liberation efforts, the resulting trial, and his hanging were the talk of the nation.

These details are fairly well-known to any high-school student. But as I started doing more reading and research on John Brown, I learned what an important and polarizing figure he has been throughout American history, even into the present.   In tracing the phrase “I’ll be John Browned,” I discovered in the book “Hatchet Jobs and Hardball: The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang” there are references to the phrase being used in text as far back as 1869:

“John-Brown:  v. ref to the hanging of John Brown, U.S. abolitionist (1800-59) Esp. So. To execute by hanging (now hist._ in phrase ‘be john-browned’ to be ‘hanged’ or damned.)”

With further digging, I went on discover the extent to which the name “John Brown” has affected the American psyche.  During and after the Civil War, both pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups, newspapers, authors, etc. used the name of John Brown to promote their own agendas.  He became a martyr and a hero for many in the North.  The South spun the Harpers Ferry event cruelly and used its failure to drive home their belief that slavery must be preserved at all costs and that slaves were obviously happy with their circumstances.   From then until even now, John Brown has been portrayed and promoted as a villain and a hero, as a terrorist and a savior.   His actions and legacy have been points of reference for any number of movements and have continued to be.

In the South, John Brown’s spirit was decried as satanic in nature and that nature was the subject of many Southern songs in the 19th century.  The song  “John Brown’s Entrance into Hell,” written in 1863, “shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued…revealed the South’s bitterness over Brown, Lincoln, and the Republican Party.  Brown was shown being greeted in hell by devils who sang joyful hymns, ‘For well they knew the lying thief, /Would make for them an honored chief.’ ”  (from “The Tribunal: Responses to John Brown and the Harper s Ferry Raid” by John Stauffer)

Flipping the script, in the 20th century, W.E. Du Bois and Langston Hughes referenced him as part of antilynching efforts.  During the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960, John Brown’s spirit was invoked as inspiration, particularly by Malcolm X.   Tony Horwitz, a journalist and biographer of Brown, compares the Harpers Ferry raid to 9/11, likening his violent tactics to terrorism on American soil. Stauffer, notes:  “…each generation since 1859 has asked and answered for itself the questions phrased by Du Bois on the fiftieth anniversary of Brown’s raid:  ‘Was John Brown simply an episode, or was he an eternal truth?  And if a truth, how speaks the truth today?’ “
I imagine that my grandfather would have been unimpressed at best if I’d told him that every time he exclaimed, “I’ll be John Browned” he was, in fact, invoking an eternal truth.   As to origins of the phrase in the South, my guess is that its incorporation into the Southern lexicon was through the pro-slavery postulations, though, those origins were muddied over time and eventually became nothing more than a common phrase to the people who used it.
But the fact is that “I’ll be John Browned” is loaded with not just the history of the South, but of American history.  Learning about the complicated origins of an expression I’d always taken as a cute little Southern curiosity of phrasing is one of a million examples of how much darkness and light is woven together into the fabric of Southern culture.  Shame and sorrow stamps the soul and structure of selfhood down South since the Abe Lincoln days.  And though it does not wholly define us, it is always there, in our slang, in our food, in our politics…

Those John Brown songs

In learning of the 19th century songs written about John Brown, I decided to do a little digging to find some of the music influenced by him.   According to author John Wirt, the song “John Brown’s Body”  became a popular marching song among regiments of the Union Army (in Wirt’s book “Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues”).  “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was written by Julia Ward Howe, an American writer, using the music from the already popular song “John Brown’s Body.”  The history of that song about John Brown is part of the history of one of our nation’s most patriotic songs.  From the Library of Congress:

The original version [of Battle Hymn of the Republic] was a religious camp meeting song written in the 1850s and began “Say, brothers, will you meet us? On Canaan’s happy shore?” The song eventually spread to army posts, where its steady rhythm and catchy chorus made it a natural marching song.

Soon, though, a new version appeared that hitched the old tune to a more militant cause. When the abolitionist John Brown was executed in 1859, someone created a new, fiercer set of lyrics; the song now declared that “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave. His soul is marching on!”

By the time the Civil War began in 1861, the John Brown version of the song had spread throughout the Union army. Soldiers added new verses as they marched through the South, including one that promised to hang Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, from a tree. Meanwhile, Confederate soldiers answered back with their own version, in which John Brown was hanging from a tree.

The version that we know today came to be when an abolitionist author, Julia Ward Howe, overheard Union troops singing “John Brown’s Body” and was inspired to write a set of lyrics that dramatized the rightness of the Union cause. Within a year this new hymn was being sung by civilians in the North, Union troops on the march, and even prisoners of war held in Confederate jails.


HueyandtheClownsThe John Brown song was well-known during that time and children were taught it in school for decades after, apparently even in the South.   One of those school children who heard it was Huey “Piano” Smith, born in 1934 in New Orleans.  Smith is a black rhythm and blues artist often credited as a major influence on the development rock and roll during the mid-1900s.  In 1958, ACE records released the album, “Havin’ a Good Time” which Smith recorded with his band The Clowns.   On that record was the song, “Well, I’ll be John Brown.”  In an interview reprinted by Wirt, Huey discusses how he came to write and record the song:

” ‘John Brown was a slave liberator,’ Huey explained.  ‘We sang about him in grammar school…We know ‘John Brown’s Body,’  and people say, ‘I’ll be John Brown.’  Well, I use slangs and things like that. When you put music with words and things together, the songs just make themselves.  And after you listen at it, it says something its own self, that you hadn’t planned.”

All this is to say, and to state the obvious, language and history in the South are as inextricably bound as anywhere else.  But in the South, that intertwining involves a lot of painful and terrible history.  With the phrase, “I’ll be John Browned,” epic moments across a century are bound up in a phrase.   It’s heavy, man, very heavy.  With words so weighed down with all that history, maybe that’s why we speak so slowly down here.   I’ll be John Browned if I know.

History of the American restaurant, bad table manners, and regionalism in cuisine

The Carolina Burger Contest and the History of Southern Cooking:  Part 2.5

Last night, in writing for my Carolina burger contest, I researched the history of regional cooking as a focus for restaurants, trying to discover when “Southern cooking” became a style promoted on menus or for a type of restaurant.   I found one excellent little study on American restaurant offerings in a journal article that includes first-hand accounts from diners in the 1800s and menus from restaurants at that time.  The author notes that as America expanded in the 1800s and as cities from coast to coast began to grow, restaurants became very popular.  The most common menu items, even in the finest dining establishments, were baked beans and pork, macaroni with cheese, oyster patties, and all sorts of fritters.   Calf’s head, mutton, and oysters dominated the meat entrees.   The study specifically looks at the development of restaurants beyond taverns and travel inns (generally places not frequented by the wealthy and which often attracted drunkards and thieves.  There are some bars in Raleigh that still attract that sort.  I frequent them). Read more