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.

Afternoon tea and race relations with Dottie and Elsie (near Raleigh)

It’s cold in the cavernous tea room and the riot of floral patterns on the wallpaper, tablecloths, and napkins is soothing even in the Garden of Eden chaos. I’m having High Tea at the little tea room in historic downtown Wake Forest. This creaky old place feels like your Southern granny’s fancy front parlor that no one was ever allowed to sit in. Two white-haired old gals wrapped in pearls and the powerful sweet scent of magnolia perfume are sitting at the table next to me.

I pretend to be reading my Dostoevsky novel but I’m really eavesdropping. They speak in that languorous Southern accent – the one that adds an extra syllable to every word, especially three-letter and four-letter words. “Here” is pronounced “he-ah” and “there” is pronounced “they-ah.” They are talking about the new preacher’s wife and what a terrible job she has done planning the annual Thanksgiving luncheon to be held this Sunday. “Bless her heart”, says Dottie. “She’s got all those people signed up to bring canned cranberry sauce and macaroni and cheese. But hardly anything else.”

“I know!” exclaims Elsie, sipping on her lavender tea. “She should have just asked each one of us in the ladies group to make her particular specialty.” She takes a bite of her crustless egg salad sandwich. “This egg salad isn’t as good as mine. As I was saying. I WOULD have made my pineapple upside down cake. All she had to do was ask.”

“Here, taste my cucumber sandwich,” says Dottie, pushing her plate towards Elsie with her silver tea spoon. “Too much cream cheese. Well, I’m going to make my pimento cheese but I’m not signing any sheet. Pastor loves my pimento cheese.”

“She’s pretty enough, the wife,” says Elsie. “But I don’t think she cooks much. He’s such a handsome man. She’d better take care.”
“Oh Elsie! You’re terrible!” titters Dottie. She slathers Devonshire cream on her butterscotch-walnut scone. “She’s funny. In a fun way, not a crazy Dix Hospital way.” (For those not from North Carolina, Dorothea Dix Hospital is an infamous, now-defunct, old mental institution in Raleigh started in the 1800s and only recently closed. Old folks refer to it as “Dix Hospital” or “Dix Hill”, which is the name of the hill the hospital was built on).

“She’s too flirty,” says Elsie. “She doesn’t seem all that bright to me. You should make your cornbread stuffing. With the pepper sherry. It’s the best thing you make. There really is too much cream cheese on this cucumber sandwich.”

NOTE: I have been typing this eavesdropped conversation on a mobile phone. Dottie and Elsie are discussing the best way to make a sweet potato casserole and a squash casserole. “You can tell we’re Southern,” giggles Dottie. “Indeed,” agrees the infinitely serious Elsie. (I’m going to try Dottie and Elsie’s recipe secrets and pass them off as my own.)

My oolong tea has grown cold. Damn. They are now speaking in hushed tones about a married woman at church who had an affair with a black man and had the prettiest little half-black girl. The church, evidently, still allows both mother and mixed-race child to attend with no judgement. Dottie and Elsie are nothing if not understanding.

white-meakin-teapot

Sexy scenes from a gym: chapter 11

by Angela Perez

I’m listening to T Rex on my headphones and pumping iron to the beat when he struts past me:  40-ish, moderately attractive, muscular arms, beer belly, and a grown-out fuzzy buzz cut.  But here’s the clincher – he’s sporting a grey and white striped terry cloth headband, emerald green velour sweat pants, and red Crocs.  White footie socks.   This dude’s get up is whatever the opposite of giving two flying fucks is.

I love him.

I hope I run into him on one of my dating apps so we can chat flirt.  I mean, you don’t ever, ever talk to a dude in your gym.  Because if you end up sleeping with him, inevitably, one of you has to change gyms.  Them’s the rules of muscle-bound road.  sweatpants

 

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.

extraordinary me: does he take his pants all the way off to do it

Tonight, while creating categories within my new dive-themed move to the Caribbean blog (sex, dating, diving, all-things-Curacao), I decided to be true to myself – the flaming liberal, social justice side of myself – and include a section about that.  Much of this particular section will be focused on ocean conservation but there will be many jabs at Trump. Conservatives may freely enjoy the dive-instructor-dick stories, but might want to judiciously avoid the “From the Mind of a Flaming Liberal”  category. And, to kick off the new blog category, I will share a little poem I wrote just for such an occasion:

extraordinary me
by angela perez

when trump eats breakfast
who sits next to him does he
crack a hardboiled egg on the presidential plate and pick up
greasy fried hashbrowns with his little orange nubs
does he watch t.v. while some kind of brown man fills
a crystal cup with ice cold Diet Coke.
last night did trump dream of lady pussies with
no hair and no body cajoling him
to press his cheek against a frozen window pane
and speak of joy not monstrously stitched
to that gray-gold empire where a Slavic wife scowls
in gossamer Dolce & Gabbana

is there a tanning bed in the white house
and does he tweet while shitting in the toilet
when he makes love, in what direction does his hair flow
Mr. President, do you fuck all-the-way naked or just pull your junk through an open zipper

oh people, my people, my bony heart is a graveyard of fake news and tan liars
who run away but don’t get far and then wither. Believe extraordinary me.

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]

spider-1920-1080-wallpaper

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
Strutter

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. 

More online dating: too fast for love

Dude:  Hey girl, I wanna a piece of you.
Angela:  Are you paraphrasing from “I want a piece of your action?” I like that one Motley Crue record. I appreciate both the reference and the innuendo.
Dude:  What?!?
Angela:  Too Fast for Love.
Dude:  Whatever, bitch.

Motley

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,
“Yes.”
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

PART ONE – PLYMOUTH HIGH SCHOOL

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.

PART TWO – SALEM COLLEGE

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.

pork

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.

Culinary Nostalgia and Local, Artisanal Food Ways: what the Indy Week interview with a BBQ scholar can tell us about ourselves

by Angela Perez

John Shelton Reed, 74, is a highly respected author and scholar of Southern history, sociology and food ways.  He taught for over 30 years at UNC-Chapel Hill and helped found the school’s esteemed Center for the Study of the American South.  Reed, who lives in Chatham County, is also a leading BBQ scholar (I’m going back and getting my PhD in THAT) and recently released his newest book, the cookbook “Barbecue.
A week or so ago, Reed discussed BBQ in North Carolina in an interview in the Triangle’s Indy Week that brings up insightful points about  “orthodoxy” and “authenticity” in preparing and discussing Southern cooking.  That dogmatism Reed is referring to is born out of  a rampant culinary nostalgia that’s inspiring everything from eager foodies buying Lodge cast iron skillets (local Southern celebrity chef Ashley Christensen promotes Lodge often – I’ll admit I’ve wondered if she has or is angling for an endorsement deal with them or if she just genuinely loves the cookware.  Lodge is, in fact, some great cast iron cookware made in Tennessee since 1896.  Whatever the case, I’m glad she is using her popularity to promote it.), pop-up homemade pie stands being erected on organic farms (one pie stand I visited in Durham recently had sold out within a couple hours of opening and you couldn’t even park near the stand for all of the Lexus SUVs and Subaru Outbacks that had swarmed onto the farm), and slick, earnest documentaries featuring highly-tattooed guys waxing poetic on the art of pickling.
BBQ in North Carolina, like so many other fiercely loved regional delights, demands authenticity amongst both sporting foodies who didn’t grow up with the food and those die-hard, that’s-how-my-grandmother-made-it Southerners who did indeed grow up with it and want to preach its gospel.  (We Southerners love to tell people we grew up eating this and that and the other straight from the river or the garden. I’m highly guilty of always referring to my grandmother’s collard greens and my grandpa’s crow stew or cornmeal-breaded fried flounder. I wonder when crow stew will trend…)   Reed tells Indy interviewer Lee Quinn:

The newer generation of barbecue cooks and pitmasters are self-conscious in a way the old barbecue guys weren’t. There is a dogmatism or even fundamentalism in their devotion to cooking over wood coals, pulling the pork, etcetera. There’s a return to orthodoxy that indicates a real respect for these traditions and the regions they represent.
So much media and press attention goes to chefs, restaurants and artisans connecting with the “old ways.”  It is now in the hands of the food industry to preach the gospel of localism through food.  The question becomes, what’s driving such staid, serious dogmatism in food production and why?  From whence springs the all-consuming desire to delve into the murky origins of forgotten food ways?  Why is the public trying to connect with where their food comes from like folks could in the “old days” (though, that connection “back then” was born out of necessity, not luxury – these days, it takes some serious bucks to “reconnect”)?  And why is the public so in love with those chef and artisan food adventures down the romantic, back-to-our-roots rabbit hole?
There seems to be some deep, biological need driving consumers into the arms of Southern chefs and artisan food producers as we salivate and weep for joy and exclaim:  “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you for giving us the real thing!” And we admire, often to the point of sycophantism and slavishness, those people who do the research and the hard work and take all of the business risks to present us with the “real thing.”  These chefs, biscuit makers, pork pullers, bakers, butchers, etc.  wield the power to dole out one of the most compelling forces in the universe:  nostalgia.  Let’s take a look at how nostalgia and food connect.
On the negative side, what’s happening is that there is a lot of back-slapping and circle jerking going on in the Triangle just because something is made local and demonstrates a home-grown ethos.  I mean, we all hate what mass-production and globalization have done to society, right?  These folks focusing on “local” and “sustainable” agricultural are thumbing their noses at such gluttonous economy.  My God, family farming can sustain an expensive restaurant so who cares that it might not affordably sustain an entire population?  “That’s not my problem,” I mutter as I shovel organic, locally-grown kale into my pie hole.
The fact remains, however, some of those local restaurants and artisans ain’t producing food that’s even all that GOOD.  Or they are producing food that is good enough for Raleigh or the Triangle but would never cut it nationally.   I hear a lot of my friends in the food industry call certain restaurants and products, “Raleigh-good” and they don’t mean it in a circle jerking kind of way.  Yet, for now at least, the public seems to be willing to fling their money at anything that feels authentic.
Nostalgia is a powerful urge and a powerful business.  Luckily for us, this homespun brand of a consumerism is bound up in basic human need (to eat) benefits us all – the seller hopefully, makes a living and the consumer ends up with incredible food not mass-produced and made with inferior products that aren’t good for us.
In other words, some of that culinary nostalgia may be driven by our current fears of faceless greedy corporations threatening our health and our planet all in the name of making a profit.  Foodies spending their money on “local” and “authentic” food crave and idealize the notion there is love and care, just like when they were children, in the preparation and presentation of the food they are about to put into their bodies.  (Though, ironically, for Generation Xers and Baby Boomers, our grandparents and parents were happily serving us new-fangled highly processed foods like Cool Whip and canned peas – pre-packaged food that made their lives so much easier and simpler.)
We love the idea of a business that doesn’t appear to be wholly born out of the desire to make a profit at any cost (even though, let’s be real, these folks do still need to send their kids to college and pay bills and feed the dog).  Surely, these committed craftspeople are driven first and foremost by passion and curiosity and eschew the destructive evils of capitalism.  I mean, my God, they mortgaged their homes and spent their retirement savings so I could have an heirloom tomato sandwich with homemade pickles on rye bread sourced from the bakery down the street.  They spent their kids’ college fund so I can go in an expensive restaurant and sit on a bench that’s made from wood from an old tobacco barn in South Raleigh that was originally built by slaves.  I mean, my God, how can you NOT feel good about spending your money on that?  (Oh my God, I just realized Sean Brock is the Wendell Berry of restaurant owners.   More on that in another, related blog.)
It FEELS good to give these guild masters our money, like we are doing the right thing for our bodies, our taste buds, our local communities and for humanity in general. I know I for one would much rather buy a $6 loaf of bread from a local baker who claims to be using a technique specific to Roman bakers in 600 BC than a $1.99 loaf from the Kroger bread aisle.  I just better when I put my hard-earned money into the hands of a real, live small business owner who cares about the who, what, when, where and why of their food production (beyond profit) and usually, hopefully, the food tastes great to boot.   And if these chefs and artisans don’t dig into the old food ways, we’re threatened with losing our stories, our history and our origins as it all gets wiped out by giant faceless food conglomerates who have no interest in preserving anything beyond profit margins.
Another driving force behind culinary nostalgia is a deep-rooted need to be part of a tribe, to feel safe in the bosom of a connected community.  By asserting and participating in specific, regional food ways like BBQ, you assert a cultural identity and ensure the continuation of your “people” and your way of life.  Or as Reed puts it in the Indy article:
The tie to geography, particularly in North Carolina, overlays rivalries between the east and the Piedmont. Differing economies, settlement patterns, plantation systems (or the lack thereof), and differences in the European and African migrations to areas of the state all play a role in these identities. In some ways, arguing about what makes barbecue stands in as a proxy for fighting about other things. The Texas-North Carolina smoked meat rivalry indicates this on a regional level. The reason for the relatively recent bubbling up of these arguments might be due to the increasing homogenization of other aspects of American cultural life. Barbecue—at least good barbecue that pays homage to local traditions—can still stand for a place.
In Northeastern North Carolina, when we insist that pulled pork doused in a vinegar-based sauce is the only “right” way to eat BBQ, we are defining ourselves as a distinct community, one that is united by food dogma.    In standing together in the name of vinegar, we are assured we will survive even as those Piedmont hooligans hurl tomato-based BBQ sauce (though, to be accurate, there is still vinegar in the bbq sauces that have tomato in them) at us and threaten to blow up our forts and smash down our walls and run away with our women and children…dissolving the tribe and killing off a simpler, sweeter way of life, even if that way of life doesn’t actually even exist anymore.
And while I strongly encourage you to keep a critical eye on the food and drink that is being presented to us (remember, just because the food or drink was made here or someone won a national award or the News & Observer constantly praises it doesn’t automatically mean it’s all that great), I at the same time believe that biology, history and our taste buds demand that we take these deep dives into all those old Southern food ways.  Let’s all eat, drink and be merry as we continue to analyze and dissect what “local” and “authentic” means.
But don’t get too damn merry.
Don’t forget, we still need to talk about race and class in culinary history and local food ways and take a look at who gets access to all of these fancy breads and heirloom this and heritage that and free-range fried chicken.  I mean, everyone deserves good food, don’t they?  Let’s keep that in mind as we slap each other on the back for getting a write-up in some national magazine – ask WHO is getting to reconnect with where their food comes from.  Will it just be middle-class, educated white folks who like to run marathons and sport cool glasses and interesting tattoos who can afford or are willing to pay $11.00 for a pound of house-ground, heritage-hog chorizo and $16 a bowl for artisanal grits and $12 an ounce for sunflower micro greens while they sit in a refurbished cotton mill and sip a $9 craft brew made with local hops?  Is this where culinary nostalgia inevitably leads and leaves us?  Sweet God have mercy, I hope not.
Ask what the hog can do for you, but what can you do for the hog.

Ask what the hog can do for you, but what can you do for the hog.

Latest food review for Indy Week: “At An, a Rhubarb Cake Provides a Meal’s Perfect Conclusion”

by Angela Perez

I am often asked what is my favorite restaurant in the Triangle.  I have a few, and An, an Asian/Southern fusion restaurant in Cary, is certainly one of them. Ask me directly if you want to know what the others are (I’ll whisper them in your ear).  And I do love giving restaurant recommendations.
Here, in my latest food article in the Indy Week, I relay to you a revelation –
what does an exquisite french pastry named after gold bars have to do with a Japanese kanzuri paste made from chilis that have fermented under snow for three years?
Ah! You shall soon find out…

Just click here to go the article in the Indy.

Chili peppers are fermented in snow in Japan for three years to make kanzuri paste.

Chili peppers are fermented in snow in Japan for three years to make kanzuri paste.

 

The eternal drama of food, of eating: more notes from the Piedmont Farm Tour

by Angela Perez

Here are a few more notes and stories from individual farms on the Piedmont Farm Tour I went on this weekend.  Notes not included in the Indy Week article.   Just some little side bits on what I saw and experienced.  The gist of the tour is you pay $30 and pick up a button from one of the 38 farms participating on the tour.  The farms on this tour were in Alamance, Person, Orange, and Chatham counties.  Once you get your button and leave the first farm, then you drive to the other farms you are interested in, showing your button at the registration table at each farm.  That simple.

I’d love to see similar farm tours organized in northeastern NC and in Franklin, Granville, Warren, Vance and Johnston counties.  Though, there will have to be more development of farmers markets in those areas and working with farmers to teach them how to tap into the “Farm to Table” movement and beyond.  Because at the end of the day, economics are the bottom line and just telling a farmer to go from big, corporate farming to small, sustainable farming, well, you better have some facts and numbers to back up your argument and offer some guidance on making the transition.  The farms included on the Piedmont Farm Tour are examples of farms making small, sustainable farming work.  But, it depends on individual goals and what the land itself is capable of.  Farm subsidies.   Federal and state rules and regulations.  Available grants.  What kinds of ag research universities are focusing on.  Lobbyists in the ag and food industries.

And remember, there are a hell of a lot of people in this world we need to keep fed and we need to feed them economically, so don’t just dismiss large corporate farming outright unless you know of another way to do it just as economically.

Wendell Berry, American novelist, poet, farmer, and essayist, once said, “Eating is an agricultural act.” He went on to explain “Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth.” The notion is beautiful but that annual drama and changing it, educating the public about that drama, well, whew Lordy, that’s a complicated proposition.  But I’m up for the task.  I want to do my part.  Because I think we can do some good things with food and agriculture in our little Southern part of the world.

The story I wrote for the Indy Week, Reconnecting With the Source:  The Lessons from Two Days on the Farm Tour, can be accessed here.

I have a few other anecdotes here that were not in the story.

Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm

While we toured the farm in a squeaky covered wagon, the farm’s owner and steward, Jack Pleasant, regaled us with tale after tale of the athletic bison escaping the farm, busting through every gate and any wired fence, no matter how sturdy. One bull had jumped 10 fences to get out and was later seen at one of the next farms over.  Pleasant quickly jumped on his four-wheeler and searched in vain for the bull until late into night, combing the fields and woods only to find that the animal returned home at some point in the early morning hours before sunrise “It’s a great life but I will say this” the farmer admitted, “raising bison is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life to make money.”

Cedar Grove Windy Hill Farm, Cedar Grove

From Sunset Ridge, I drove over to Windy Hill Farm, a very organized, well-kept farm.   After signing in I was greeted by two farm employees manning a wooden table laden with fresh eggs, homemade cookies, lemonade and fragrant goat milk soap.  Next to the table, one of the farm owners, Jane Gledhill was milking a calm goat as she explained to our small crowd that she’d been working with goats for over 34 years.   “Goats are hard work, but I love this lifestyle,” she said.  “I love these animals.”  One of the highlights of the Windy Hill tour was the honey pie brought out later in the day and added to the table spread.  The rich, buttery, custardy homemade delight was made by one of the farmer’s daughters, Chiara.  The bees that provided the honey for the pie were happily buzzing away in their framed hives just a few feet away.  And just a few feet away, the chickens that provided the eggs for the pie were lounging around in the dirt just past the goat pens.  I bought some goat milk soap and actually met the goat who provided the milk for the soap.  He seemed disinterested when I thanked him.

Avillion Farm, Efland

I then drove about 10 minutes west to Avillion Farms, home to fiber producing livestock, including Angora goats and rabbits. When I walked up to the farm from the gravel road where I parked, there were 20 or so people standing on the front porch watching two rather serious looking women who were hand spinning yarn.  One woman, as she worked, explained that spinning is an ancient art and that before the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, most rural women had to know how to spin.   One 10 year old girl, in her infinite wisdom, said, “That would really suck to spend all your time making everybody else’s clothes while they were out having fun.”  I liked her point, though I doubted day-to-day rural life back then was fun for anyone.

Next to the spinning wheel, huddled in a box was a beautiful greyish brown angora.  I leaned over to pet him and didn’t shy away.   He felt like, well, an angora sweater.  A silky soft puff-ball fur explosion.  I left the porch and went to the rabbit cages – where adults and children alike oohed and ahhhed over babies and their unkempt floppy eared mothers.  As if on cue in a movie scene, a mother duck and her babies walked out of the barn in front of me.  Adult goats sauntered past me looking for food while new born baby goats frolicked behind, hungry and endlessly curious.  As I walked back to my car, one woman was Instagramming a photo of a red lawn mower sitting out next to one of the raised beds of kale.  Her husband seemed annoyed.  “Of everything interesting and cute on this farm,” he asked, “why would you take a picture of that?”  “Because,” she replied, “why would you need a lawn mower on a goat farm?”  She laughed and her kids rolled their eyes and walked away.

Minka Farm, Efland

I woke up Sunday morning very sunburned. Recommendations for farm tourists: put on sunscreen.  And take a cooler with ice.  Most of these farms sell their produce and/or meats.  Many have websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds (these small farms are social media savvy so you can keep up with farm events and what’s on offer).

At Minka Farms, the first farm of the day, I got to hold a one-day old chick and pet a grey,silky new-born baby goat. There were children were working on this farm who grew up in the midst of all of this earthy magic and it all seemed like a rather mundane exercise to them.  It made me realize what a city-slicker I truly am and how disconnected I am from what I eat.  I fed hard boiled eggs to two three-month old piglets and had stare-downs with donkeys and cattle.  The cattle were right there in front of us, pushing and nudging one another, non-plussed by our gawping.  Guinea fowl strutted among the chickens, their glorious feathers making the chickens look like their poorer cousins from down South.  I bought asparagus and boneless pork chops to cook for dinner later that night.  I wondered if the pork chops were related to the two piglets I fed earlier.

Chapel Hill Creamery, Chapel Hill

The third farm I visited was Chapel Hill Creamery. As I walked up, two large white draft horses were pulling a cart of people to tour the dairy and behind them a tractor pulled a second group.  Too late for either the horses or the tractor, I trudged up the hill to the dairy, where I met two young working steers, not yet old enough to be considered oxen, who munched hay while we petted them.  I bought cheese made from the milk produced on the farm by some very happy, well-cared for cows.  It was late afternoon and the crowds were thinning out.  I sat at a picnic table next to an open-air pen of about 8 young calves and sipped fresh strawberry and mint lemonade and munched on the farmer’s cheese I’d bought early, marveling at how much whey-fed pork and fresh cheese I had seen these farm tourists purchase.  Though much of the food at the Creamery and at the other farms was more expensive than typical grocery store prices, you could tell that people felt the cost was worth it.  There was a piece of mind gained in the purchases I made that weekend.

And the conclusion?  Go on the Piedmont Farm Tour next year.  It’s a wonderful way to spend a weekend.  Understand and participate in the food cycle in more meaningful ways.  It’s good for you.  I guarantee it.

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.

For those days when you think to yourself, “I am not an artist. I am not a writer. I am not a musician. I suck. I got…nothin’. Michelangelo bitched harder than you ever have.

“Awwww fuuuuck,” said this Raleigh guy to me.  “I’m no musician.  We never got anywhere.  Some homemade records and a few middle-aged aging hipsters who still come to see our shows.  I’m no musician.”

One barista/poet/nanny/part-time jewelry maker who works for a coffee shop downtown cried in her espresso and exclaimed to me:  “”I am no writer.  I ain’t an artist of no kind. To turn a phrase.”

For those creative types who sometimes languish bereft, or stand as a vault wrenched, slashed open, scavenged and silent inside.  Are ya’ gaping to the world with nothing to offer??

Despair not!  Elation, self-satisfaction, and satiety will soon follow if you just keep on keepin’ on.  Aw shucks, it’s just the human condition got you down temporarily.  It’ll come back to you and you will, once again, be that thing that makes you perfectly comfortable and miserable in your own skin.  I mean, Jesus, even Michelangelo bitched about losing his creative spirit – bogged down by the day-to-day and the failings of his skin sack.   But don’t take my word for, read the Master’s own poem – yes, he was a poet.

Even ole' Mickey had bitch and whine sessions with his buds when his creative spirit was low and his back ached and he felt flabby in his skin sack.

Even ole’ Mickey had bitch and whine sessions with his buds when his creative spirit was low and his back ached and he felt flabby in his skin sack.

Michelangelo: To Giovanni da Pistoia
“When the Author Was Painting the Vault of the Sistine Chapel”
@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@—1509

I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture,
hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy
(or anywhere else where the stagnant water’s poison).
My stomach’s squashed under my chin, my beard’s
pointing at heaven, my brain’s crushed in a casket,
my breast twists like a harpy’s. My brush,
above me all the time, dribbles paint
so my face makes a fine floor for droppings!

My haunches are grinding into my guts,
my poor ass strains to work as a counterweight,
every gesture I make is blind and aimless.
My skin hangs loose below me, my spine’s
all knotted from folding over itself.
I’m bent taut as a Syrian bow.

Because I’m stuck like this, my thoughts
are crazy, perfidious tripe:
anyone shoots badly through a crooked blowpipe.

My painting is dead.
Defend it for me, Giovanni, protect my honor.
I am not in the right place—I am not a painter.

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.

Gin!

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.

WHO FUCKING KNEW?!?

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.

Fuck the Rules: A Brief History of Sheer Terror’s Paul Bearer, Chapter 1

Paul Bearer of Sheer Terror and Joe Coffee.  I only wish my brother had known about Paul Bearer.

Paul Bearer of Sheer Terror and Joe Coffee. I only wish my brother had known about Paul Bearer.

Chapter 1

Sheer Terror, Paul Bearer, and how I wish I could have saved my little brother

“I just got into the punk thing…pretty much when Sid Vicious killed his girlfriend. I just thought that was the most craziest thing I ever heard, so I went to the library and I stole the thing on cassette, Never Mind the Bollocks, I stole it—and I still have it. And I just started buying punk records and getting into it. You know, trying to sneak off into shows, whenever I could—because I was young.” – Paul Bearer in an interview for “Burning Time” blog.

To be honest, I hadn’t heard of the legendary hardcore punk band Sheer Terror until last weekend, when a friend of mine, Ricky Bacchus, formerly of the NYC-based glam rockers D Generation, told me I should check out their singer, Paul Bearer.  Ricky knows of my interest in figuring out what makes for a brilliant front man and felt that Paul and Sheer Terror  (formed in 1984 when Paul was but a young fella) would give me plenty of material.

So, off to Youtube I go, searching for my new mystery man.  A man who, by the way, ain’t dead yet.

First off, I was partial from the get go to Paul, who now fronts for the slower-grooved band Joe Coffee. I’m partial because Paul is a big, hilarious, smart, thoughtful, ominous, artistic, no-nonsense, stone-mountain of man.   Also, his thick Staten Island accent makes him ripe for a role in a Scorsese film  (I assume it’s Staten Island.  He’s from somewhere around there.  How the fuck should I know? I grew up in the South).

The partiality towards Paul comes from the fact that my little brother, Tony, was just as big, just as ominous and thoughtful, couldn’t be held down by a 9-to-5  job, loved music just as much, was an artist at heart, and I believe if he’d known about Paul Bearer, well, he wouldn’t be dead (he died at the age of 33).   In many of the interviews with Paul, he describes his inability to fit into regular “working stiff” society and how life on the fringes drew him inexorably to punk rock music and the scene around it.

My little brother was in trouble throughout his life starting way back in elementary school and felt a freak and I remember him sitting alone in his room as a kid playing the Circle Jerks, Hüsker Dü and Black Flag on bootleg cassettes he played on a cheap Sears tape recorder my dad gave him.  He was chubby from the time he was a kid (he always had to wear “husky” sized jeans – that’s what they called them in the 70s) and he was always picked on for being big until he got big enough to kick their asses.

When he did have regular jobs they didn’t last long.  I remember in high school he worked at an Advanced Auto Parts store.  Evidently, he traded so many hubcaps and car batteries for weed that the store could keep neither item in stock. When he worked for Pizza Hut after that, well, let’s just say there were a lot of weed-selling rednecks riding around with large Pepperoni Pan Pizzas in their trucks.  He also, at the age of 16, led a farmer on high-speed car chase through our tiny rural Southern town for hot wiring his $100,000 combine and wrecking it into a ditch.  The farmer chased my brother all over town and through the back rural roads for over an hour, shooting at him with a rifle and blowing holes through the trunk of my brother’s old Corolla.  Needless to say, the farmer had to end up not pressing charges because he was guilty of attempted murder over a tractor.  My dad, a Mexican who used to be in Chicano gangs in Los Angeles in the 50s, didn’t really think it was that big of a deal all the way ’round.

My brother, Raleigh N.C.-s smartest drunken asshole (with a heart of gold), could actually sing his balls off.  And, if folks weren’t pissed off at him, they were usually falling over laughing at his filthy direct humor (or running away sobbing).  My brother often talked to me about wanting to front a band but because he was such a big, hulking dude, and despite his charisma and apparent confidence, he actually was too self-conscious to stand on stage in front of people.   He would sing Corrosion of Conformity and Pantera songs to me at the top of his lungs, but only when I was driving him around in my car.  Just me and him.

I feel confident that if my brother had seen Paul (especially the slower-moving Paul from the later years) fronting Sheer Terror – thundering back and forth slowly across the stage in front of the audience like a giant pit bull being taunted in a cage – well, I think he’d have given fronting a band a go. He’d see that leading a band– whether you are writhing wildly or standing stock still, whether you have a sexy girlie face and physique or a visage carved out of granite – is all about what the singer is exuding.  It comes from within and it can incite an audience to rack and ruin.  Some folks got it, and some don’t.

I believe my brother had it.  And I sure as hell know that Paul Bearer has it.

If my brother had seen Paul perform, he’d have had the courage to go down the path of hardcore and find an outlet to quell the demons he wrestled with.  Instead of selling coke for most of his life and eventually killing himself through his lifestyle, he could have purged through music. Alas, my brother, to my knowledge, did not get to see Paul Bearer or even know about him.

But enough with the sappy, sentimental stuff.  Thanks to Ricky, I now know enough about Paul to feel like writing about him because the man was pushing the boundaries of his chosen genre – hardcore punk – from the get go.  He was pointing out through his performances and lyrics how limiting the “rules” of punk could be and he was having none of that bullshit.  At the same time, from what I can tell, that same music scene provided him with refuge – a place to belong.  He identified with it and yet he rejected its restrictions.  His relationship with hardcore punk points to one of the genre’s most overt cases of the fracturing of punk and hardcore ideology that caused it to bleed out on itself.  Establishing a dogma was antithetical to the whole punk enterprise – and naturally, the ship couldn’t hold.  Paul’s life gives us an example as to why.

Now, about Paul.  Well, I’m finishing up chapter 2 this week.

Other things to do with pig tails (they aren’t just to season collard greens)

Heard this from a pork producer over the weekend (while at BBQ Camp) who works with chefs to develop recipes.  He’s recently worked with a chef in Atlanta on this idea: sous vide pig tail in brine, bread it and deep fry, toss in spicy sauce – like hot wings, kinda. Phenomenal, he says. I gotta test this out. Handling a whole hog for the first time puts my love of pork in an entirely new perspective – I have more respect than ever for what these animals give to us.  Here’s a photo from summer camp (not your typical camp photo):

pork

Sugar in my biscuits? Normally I’d say HELL no…but…

You guys know I am firmly in the “no sugar in the biscuits or cornbread” camp. But Jubala’s sweet biscuits with sharp cheddar make me think about switching sides….Okay, that will never happen. But these big lovelies in North Raleigh have just the right crust and work with savory.

You ain’t gotta masturbate with an immersion circulator: food and chefs in American popular culture

by Angela Perez
There’s an interesting (yet all over the map) inside-scoop article by Mario Batali in Lucky Peach magazine on how food and chefs became part of pop culture. Like him or not, the dude was part of making food t.v. and food purveyors majorly famous in the 90s and he’s been wildly, wildly successful.  As food finally becomes big business and “rock star” chefs emerge around the Triangle, folks are starting to become interested in not just eating, but in who is serving us the food and how and why.  And the answers to all of this are part of a much larger, national progression of events.  To understand what’s happening locally, we need to understand how the food scene got to where it is on a national scale.  Within this unfocused article, some of that history is explained.
What’s fun about this meandering stream-of-consciousness are the inside tid-bits and jokes and pokes at some of the world’s most (in)famous American chefs.  There are some off-the-wall tangents in here like (I’ve never had a pan of risotto thrown at me though I did throw a pot of spaghetti at an ex-boyfriend.  Like Batali, he walked out):
“It’s almost all better that we get smarter and better characters. There’s still a lot of shiftiness, but your cooks are smarter about it. It’s not like you have to worry about whether they’re going to be in jail on a Friday night, because cooks just aren’t that tough anymore. The real problem is that we have a lot of really smart pussies coming into the kitchen now.
I worked for Marco, and the last straw was when he hit me with a pan of risotto. I walked out. Often what you can learn from those experiences is how to behave and how not to behave. You can have role models who only taught you what not to do. Marco’s genius on the plate was something that I respected—and now I love him, we’re friends—but the environment was not conducive to good food. And the idea that through fear, intimidation, or violence you’re gonna get better art is just someone thinking that they probably should have done heroin with Lou Reed to understand rock.”
But he reflects positively on what the cult of food and the cult of chefs has done for us all – though he ain’t so sure about David Chang’s automated restaurant idea:
“That said, what food television has created for us is a continuously growing, hungry group of people: hungry for the information, hungry for the food, hungry for the experience. On every level they want to engage us. So we’ve never had it this good.
Maybe there aren’t enough skilled line cooks this year, and maybe there’ll be more line cooks next year. Or maybe we won’t need as many cooks. Chang says he’s gonna have automated restaurants. I love the idea. Why have any pesky cooks? Let’s just pour the soup in over here and the dumplings over there. It’s funny how the guy who’s the most artistic out of all of them and certainly who plays the tortured artist better than anyone is the guy who wants a machine to run his restaurant. Bubble tea and pork buns—that’ll be his business model.”
The bottom line, says Batali, is this:
“And it’s happening. We’re starting to understand and appreciate our farmers’ markets and things that are fresher rather than things that are seemingly fresh. We’re a lot more open to seasonal variation and we’re also smart enough to realize that, although it’s nice to have traditional dish, you shouldn’t just eat the same twelve things throughout the year. Going outside that box is intriguing and intellectually compelling as well as satisfying. I mean, the fact that butter and slices of white bread aren’t on every table at dinner right now means we’ve come a long way since the ’50s, baby.”
I still question who is “going outside that box” – as in, who gets to NOT eat the same twelve things throughout the year and who gets to dine and cook in the interesting ways Batali brings up in this mess of an article.   But, hey, we gotta start somewhere, right?
batali

The Triumph and Terror of Nostalgia in the South: why Caitlin Cary’s artwork is killing me right now

By Angela Perez

This collaborative work between Caitlin Cary (fabric/thread) and Skillet Gilmore (screen printing) is some of my favorite Southern art being created right now. Warm, compelling nostalgia and deep-rooted longings for home are mixed with disturbing, bizarre feelings. Centrifugal and centripetal forces tearing me apart in good and terrible ways. I cannot like this enough. Mortal acts and emptied pastures are scratching at me. And then caressing me and it’s messing with my mind.  For me, this work is informed by the complexities of defining the “New South” and the identity struggles every progressive Southerner grapples with.  The jarring stitching harkens to the Frankenstein I often feel like as a Southerner who has lived all over the U.S. and in parts of Europe, where I was constantly trying to define and defend who and what I am.  Why I speak the way I do.  Even, still, oddly enough, answering for slavery, bigotry and backwardness.

This work was recently produced as part of Caitlin’s Regional Emerging Artist Residency with Raleigh’s Artspace.  That residency started in July 2015.  For this collaborative work with her husband, Skillet Gilmore, she says this in an Artspace interview:

He and I will decide on an image and screen print it, and then I will add to it with fabric and thread. I plan on choosing an iconographic North Carolina image – one that evokes a distinct sense of place. My work tends to focus on humble landmarks point up the relationship of art to troublesome histories: poverty vs. wealth, rural vs. urban, preservation vs. development, and commerce vs. beauty. The underlying print will be the same for all shares, but each individual piece will be unique, embellished by fabric, stitch and imagination.

This work has even gotten me thinking about the way Southern identity has been appropriated all over the U.S. to sell food, cookbooks, some homey, earthy way of life, some cohesive identity that doesn’t actually exist.  But causes gazillions to flock to over-priced fried chicken and pig picking joints every day.  To swarm to restaurants where they can sit on uncomfortable benches made from salvaged wood from old plantation homes built by slaves. To buy slick, shiny cookbooks about pickling and canning and the way the old folks used to grow collards.  To long for some agrarian way of living that life in the South “back in the day” seems to represent.  But is not possible for most and not desirable for the poor and for rural folks who have no romantic notions about the old way of living.  Underneath all of these quaint pastoral or nostalgic scenes lurks the racism, the poverty, the inequality, and the bigotry that still exist today.  Those old store fronts and barns may be falling apart and going away, but all that bad stuff hasn’t.  It’s still there – it’s in the threads and the stitching holding it all together.

What the fuck is it actually that we’re all longing for in that $16 bowl of grits at Standard Foods or that Instagram photo of a busted out old storefront in downtown Raleigh?  Caitlin and Skillet don’t give us any answers but they illustrate the painful process – internally and externally – all too perfectly.

Caitlyn

 

Fried okra and pastel green ambrosia salad made with Cool Whip tastes good.

Some Fridays, all you gotta do is go to the Forks cafeteria in Wake Forest, NC and wait on your hot and crispy fried okra. Because it goes so good with stewed chicken and pillows of pastry, cabbage flecked with salty hunks of pork, and dreamy fluffs of ambrosia salad made with Cool Whip. Ah! As I feast, I sit near the food line because oh how I love hearing old Southern folks order: “I’ll have the field peas and turnip greens, please, ma’am.”  

I sat in that bar and drank all day on Sunday for more than one reason

by Angela Perez
I sat in that bar called Slim’s and drank all day on Sunday for a reason.
Oh, sure, I had a good time.  No doubt.  Nothing finer in this world than being surrounded by good friends who make you endlessly laugh ’til you cry.
And I have a deep appreciation for milling about dark places listening to good music amongst people I might or might not be inclined to sleep with.  Or at least touch the tip and graze the lip but not go all the way because then it’s just promiscuousness.
Ah!  But my reasons for knocking back all that Cardinal gin on the Lord’s day were deeper than just having a good time.
Lately, life has gotten too comfortable and too safe.  And I see the people around me, my age, posting on Facebook and Instagram all of these stultifyingly boring photos of children and grandchildren and spouses and snapshots of chili and bowls of soup they made.  And these folks write about how grateful they are for being secure and getting engaged and drinking hot chocolate this morning and on and on.
And all of those mundane, regular-folks’ posts make me feel like I am suffocating.  I am drowning in those posts.  And I want to flee from these people and their penchant for the opposite of pain, dangerous adventure and anguish.  Jesus Christ, this is where it’s all headed for all the average and not-so-average Joes, including myself.
These youngish- to middle-aged lives I see around me fall so neatly and predictably into that pattern of goodness and the straight and warm and fuzzy path to the grave.   And it makes me sick.  And ill.  And I want to burn it all down to the ground.   But now, as I have gotten older, I know that there is no stable but magical brilliant place of wild satisfaction and quick release behind the curtain.  Oh no.  That place beyond the beer, shitty coke, and cum-stained curtain is dark and warped and a realm where bad people go to live in misery. It’s a place from which nothing warm and fuzzy and secure can emerge.
And so I’m caught between two worlds, neither of which appeals to me.
A limbo of longing and disdain.  Of pity for the regulars and the predictable people alongside an abhorrence of and lust for the twisted.
While I ponder on that, I suppose I’ll just sip my gin and get laid and think on glorious food and boys who smell of warm gray wool and taste of peaches and cigarette smoke.  Because, really, if you just do it once and a while, it’s just a good time, right?  I’m going to say yes, because, on this particular Sunday, it was.
But if I do it again next weekend, it might not be.  As you know, you can never fully relax when you’re getting all lit up on Sunday because in the back of your mind, as you knock back that Fireball shot somebody ordered for you, you’re thinking of all that grown-up regular responsible adult shit you gotta do on Monday morning at 8 o’clock (or whatever time it is you get up), things that the damned on the other side of the curtain don’t give a fuck about.
[Editor’s note:  this story is told from the point of view of someone who is not actually Angela Perez but who thinks along similar but not exact lines.]
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