My discussion with Himself (the one I married, not the one pictured) over whether this shirt is funny or slightly blasphemous, coupled with a discussion from a close friend about blog topics, got me thinking about the times when my favorite thing (humor) has intersected with other things (death, church) that it really shouldn't. So in honor of Deb, my friend who knows things about me that keep me in her debt until death takes one of us, here are some stories.
1. The Video Store
If you jump in the 'way back machine and leaf through my posts from 2005 I explain that in 1987, two weeks into my senior year of high school, a man who for all intents and purposes was my stepfather died unexpectedly. This set a cascade of craptacularity in motion that culminated a couple years later in our losing our house. But we hadn't got that far yet.
My friend and I went out to rent a video, as I recall she'd just returned from a trip to Belgium and we'd decided to rent a movie. I remembered that we'd had a membership at the local non-chain video store and I went over to see if it was still in force. He'd been gone a while and I wasn't sure if dues had to be paid or what have you. (This was a long time before Blockbuster and places like that.) I went to the counter and asked if our membership, which my stepdad had set up, was still good.
"Yes, its a lifetime membership."
Suddenly I was faced with a dilemma. Was 'lifetime' sort of a euphemism for 'indefinite' or did it actually end with the life of the person who set it up? I wasn't sure. All I knew was that the irony of what he'd said started off a powerful urge to burst out laughing that hung like the electric stillness of a thunderstorm. I heard my friend head for the door, lurch out under the veranda of the strip mall, and not quite shut the door before her laughter echoed down the concrete hall. In a strangled voice, I explained myself to the video store man, who looked like he'd been slapped. Because he and my stepdad had become friends, sort of. So I'm a huge jerk for telling him like I did. Yaay.
2. Greek Tragedy
We used to live near a town I'll call.....Jacketville. Jacketville had a bit of a reputation as being a grungy little town, but there was a scrappy bunch of theater types who were determined to revive the cultural life of the town, particularly after the steel mill that had sustained it for so many years closed up. So the Jacketville Cultural Society was formed. They had a nifty little storefront property with big windows, a lunch counter, a lounge area where writing workshops and chess games were held, and several small theater spaces where productions and musical events were presented. Most of what they did there was wonderful. They were an eccentric bunch of folks, but very warm and very welcoming.
We were presented with free tickets to see Euripides' Trojan Women. I'd never seen a Greek tragedy and I thought it would be interesting. The tickets were a thank-you gift for a story written by Himself for the local paper, so it wasn't like we could blow it off.
On the way in, I overheard someone say they'd only rehearsed twice, and one rehearsal had been that morning. I waved off the voice in my head that suggested this was a bit of a red flag.
I expected that the pre-production refreshments would be enjoyed in quiet conversation, but someone started playing a drum. Then someone else joined in. And for half an hour, most of the cast danced and, Jeebus on a surfboard I couldn't tell you what they were doing. It just needed to be over and I was already avoiding my husband's direct eye contact because I knew no good could come of it.
The play was presented 'in the round', with the chairs arrayed around the staging area. I've seen plays like this before so I didn't mind that so much. But two things were going to make it sort of uncomfortable:
1. There were exactly nine people in the audience
2. They never lowered the lights.
So here we are, all nine of us, staring at each other across the 'sacred space', wondering what we'd gotten ourselves into. It was about to get worse. The drumming picked up again, and so did the dancing. Only now, most of the cast had elected to TAKE OFF MUCH OF THEIR CLOTHING. And for reasons I can't explain, they were dancing with toys and smearing makeup on themselves.
Now, I know that Greek plays are kind of strange; I took Ancient Theater. Masks, deus ex machina, whatever. But I don't think Euripides imagined people dancing around with stuffed animals in their underwear. And I can't say I remember ANYTHING about the play itself. I just know that I spent the better part of an hour doing some sort of yogic breathing to keep from cracking up. The way the room was laid out I couldn't leave. There was no blessed anonymity of the dark, or, for that matter, an audience of more than 10.
The play wound down, and ended with everyone in the cast (about 35 people) wandering into chairs and dancing. I see my husband fumbling a pen out of his shirt pocket and hear the familiar scritch-scritch of him writing something on the program. He does this in church too, when there is something he absolutely HAS to tell me RIGHT NOW. The sharp edge of the program poked me in the ribs. I waved him off because I knew that if I looked his way, or read whatever he wrote, I'd be done. There was a man laying on the riser beside my chair doing some sort of gyration and I can honestly say that it would probably be less embarassing to go with my firefighter buddies to a strip club and get a lap dance than to endure what was going on there. I was hoping we could bolt out a side door and speed away but we had to run a gauntlet of castmembers at the door STILL in their underwear on the way out, who felt the most fitting end of the play was to HUG EVERYONE as they left. And since we were guests of honor we had to tell each and every one of them what we thought. They smiled up at us with the radiant expectation of a bride in a receiving line.
We got in the car and laughed for at least a mile; I think I even peed a little.
There are probably more, I have to think. Its a holiday weekend, so my brain is already clearing off the desk and putting the good pens away. Here's this, though.
I remembered the other story I wanted to tell you.
When my mom turned 50, my sister and I decided to take her to Nashville for the weekend. She was hugely into line dancing and we planned to take her to the Wild Horse Saloon for a taping of the show where people dance in matching outfits because she dug that. My sister and I weren’t super into it but since the three of us always have a good time together we didn’t mind much. And my sister and I just figured, it’s a saloon. There are bound to be margaritas.
One of the daytime activities we planned was a bus tour around the city to see some Country stars homes. The driver was really nice and as he picked up passengers at the different hotels, he had us introduce ourselves and say where we were from. The vibe was pretty fun and loose for most of the roundup.
Then the teachers got on. From Idaho.
I have to give you the visual first here. There were three of them; all identically dressed. Hawaiian shirts, cargo shorts, Birkenstocks WITH SOCKS, and a severe bowl haircut with an ear-level weightline and mullety bottom that, coupled with the center part, made each of their heads look distressingly penile from the back.
I realize this is not a charitable description. They earned it by being the most annoying people on the bus.
The driver invited questions. He was full of information about the country stars’ homes, including a funny one (which is true) about Tanya Tucker flashing her ta-ta’s at a bus like ours that had pulled into her driveway. I don’t think he counted on the kind of questions he’d get from The Teachers.
"Wow. What does real estate go for around here?"
"How often do you have to mow your grass here?"
"Is that, like, his real house or just the one for the tour?"
And my personal favorite: We had just driven around TWO SIDES of Alan Jackson’s house. As ridiculously rich peoples’ houses go, it wasn’t all that big, kind of a nice white house with black shutters, a big detatched garage, and a large barn with horses. It had a big picket fence all the way around it. But from the direction we came you could see pretty much the whole property.
A couple of other tidbits you may need to know if you aren’t a country fan. Alan Jackson has a song called ‘Chattahoochee’. Here’s a snippet of the lyrics.
Well way down yonder on a chatahoochie
It gets hotter than a hoochiecoochie
We laid rubber on the Georgian asphalt
We got a little crazy but we never got caught.
Now. A couple of things. One, in this context I have no idea what a hoochiecoochie is and I don’t want to know. Two, the Chatahoochie is a river. Three, from the song, you kinda get the impression its in GEORGIA. I don’t think he’s talking about Georgian asphalt in, say, Tblisi.
So of course, one of the teachers asked:
"Is there a river behind that house?"
The driver had a mirror over him that enabled him to keep an eye on his tourists. I could only see the top third of his face but he looked in the mirror and did something with his eyebrows and I lost it. I was in a seat behind my mother and my sister and I let out this loud, almost involuntary bark of laughter and then ducked. The Teachers all swiveled around and gave my mother and my sister the stinkeye. My sister reached over the seat and started smacking me in a way that presaged her ability to accurately reach her children while driving.
They sat in sullen but merciful silence for the rest of the ride.