Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Pills Kick In

1. There is no bar at the Tupelo Airport. There is a War Museum, which I skipped. The flight was delayed: some outfit called Silver Airways. They discontinue service to Atlanta in a few days, so I was crossing my fingers that their heart was still in it a little. It wasn't, I think. 2. Lots of posters about history on the walls of the Tupelo Airport. One poster recounted a Chickasaw legend about the naming of Alabama. It involved some Native Americans strolling around tossing a stick in the air. I'd only ever heard it from my dad before. It's a pretty good story! I had recently incorporated it into a short story in my supposedly forthcoming collection MOVIE STARS (2016). And there it is on a poster at the Tupelo airport. And so begins my traditional jotting in my precious little notebook, recording my eventful travels for grateful future generations. 3. Dr. Theresa had flown Silver Airways before and assured me that John T. Edge - a world traveler! - uses it all the time. I saw him at a party and when I brought it up, seeking comfort, he didn't seem quite so sure about Dr. Theresa's characterization of his travel habits. Was he bemused, even? Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls flew Silver Airways when she came to Oxford recently. Only upon my return did Dr. Theresa happen to mention that Ms. Ray compared her experience to the John Lithgow section of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. 4. Well, what with the delayed flight, these pills are kicking in too early. I feel like Elaine Dundy somehow. 5. I must give props to the old-fashioned office-style water cooler in the Silver Airways waiting room, with its exceptionally cold and bracing water. 6. I can tell you what I plan to read on the plane if it ever gets here: THE DRINKING DEN by Zola. Expectation of owls in it is low. It's a gritty human drama of the streets of Paris... laundresses, blacksmiths, roofers. When will they have the chance to hear an owl? Some bird imagery when two blacksmiths are showing off their skills for a laundress: "they were like two great red cockerels strutting around in front of a little white hen. What would they think of next? Sometimes, the heart really does have a strange way of declaring its feelings." The shy blacksmith shows the laundress some rivet-making machines. He's ashamed at the precision of the machine-made rivets compared to his own. The laundress objects: "'See what I mean?' she yelled passionately. 'They are TOO well made. I prefer yours. There, at least, you can feel the hand of an artist.'" I liked that part. 7. I resisted THE DRINKING DEN at first - squalid in the name of so-called "realism" and a little prurient it seemed to me, but I really got caught up in the story. Zola lets something nice happen just for the pleasure of pulling the rug from under these poor so-and-sos. It's cruel, but it keeps you turning pages with sickly, burning hope. 8. The loudspeakers of Silver Airways - why isn't their logo the Silver Surfer? - made a cryptic announcement that our pilot was "in the air" and headed our way. But from where? Across the street? Pills wearing off. The iPod is on shuffle. Harry Partch is singing about monkeys. I have various superstitions and rituals involving the iPod I shan't go into here. 9. A young woman is taking up an entire row of these vinyl waiting room seats. She's sprawled out on her stomach. Her face is pressed flat against the very spot where strangers' butts go. Ah, youth! Impervious youth. 10. The tiny plane landed and it had a slogan printed on the side: "BUILDING BLOCKS." I don't know what that meant, but it didn't strike me as a reassuring thing to stencil on the side of an airplane; I felt the airplane should demonstrate a surer sense of already having been put together properly. The engines were painted fuchsia, a bold choice! I decided to ignore that Blackalicious was performing "It's Going Down" on my iPod as I settled into my seat. 11. Late! A missed connection in Atlanta. Sitting at an airport piano bar reading THE DRINKING DEN (among other things, a catalogue of downfalls instigated by demon liquor) while drinking rye and listening to a lookalike of actor Mike Starr (pictured, the real Mike Starr, I mean) tinkling out a syrupy version of my favorite Chi-Lites song.
I was just happy to be on the ground for a few minutes and about how nice the Delta guy had been about getting me a good seat on the next plane out, so when the bridge came up I belted, "Whhhyyyyyyy Oh Why! Did she leave and go away?" as everyone pretended to ignore me. 12. (One day I'll go back and fill in all the jottings I left out from our punk rock trip to NYC. Like the great steaks Dr. Theresa and I had at LaGuardia! You have to cut them with a plastic knife for security reasons. "But you could kill somebody with this fork," said Dr. Theresa, jabbing to demonstrate. "Shh!" I said. But it was a real fork and she had a point.) 13. Savannah at last! Elizabeth picked me up at the hotel and treated me to a fancy dinner. When we left the restaurant, her car had been towed! She refused to take the cab with me, insisting that she lived "a couple of blocks away." So I couldn't get her on the phone for the rest of the night and spent a troubled evening fearing unspeakable calamity. 14. I finally talked to Elizabeth at eight the next morning as I ate my $36 room-service oatmeal, and she was alive! 15. I spoke to a "humor class" and then the writer Lee Griffith drove me to lunch. Quite unexpectedly we spotted Elizabeth walking down a sidewalk like a glamorous spy in sunglasses. OR WAS IT HER? We turned around and drove back to find out. But she HAD VANISHED! We spotted her headed down a different street. We circled the block to catch up with her. GONE AGAIN! This went on for a while until I insisted she was driving the car behind us. By this time Lee was convinced I had been hallucinating everything. But it was Elizabeth! Her car had not even been towed. She had parked it a block away from her house and forgotten. 16. At one point I needed a tissue and Lee gave me A REAL CLOTH HANDKERCHIEF. TO KEEP! 17. Yes, I got up in front of a packed auditorium of hundreds of young innocent college students and rambled about Jerry Lewis. I remember some of what I said. 18. I praised Jerry's DIY and punk spirit in making THE BELLBOY, though I think I forgot to tell them the title of the movie. 18. When demonstrating Dean Martin's approach to art, the opposite of Jerry's, yet equally valid (no matter what that one guy whom I'll never ever forgive said in that one grad class that time), I eased into a brief, unplanned Dean Martin impersonation. It was really more like Perry Como, but they'll never know that. 19. I drew a line from Jerry to John Waters to Andy Kaufman to Tim and Eric to argue against the importance of "laughing" at comedy. 20. I argued for the influence of THE LADIES MAN on MOONRISE KINGDOM. They applauded at the mention of the latter title because (I think) I had finally mentioned something they had heard of. 21. I encouraged them to emulate Jerry Lewis, who cut his education short when he smashed his high school principal in the face for making an anti-Semitic remark. 22. The Q&A session. Nearly all the Qs were about ADVENTURE TIME. I managed to finesse some of the answers so that they came back to Jerry. I summoned the hubris, for example, to compare Kent Osborne and myself to Dean and Jerry while pontificating on the importance of serendipitous friendships to the development of unanticipated new forms of artistic expression. 23. One kid asked about the influence of Charlie Chaplin on Jerry Lewis, God bless him! God bless that wonderful little bastard. 24. I was very pleased to stay for an hour after the lecture as a long line of young people wanted to talk about ADVENTURE TIME some more. 25. Dinner at a lovely restaurant with a view of riverboats chugging by. The waiter said something about "assorted heirloom carrots" but it sounded like "sordid heirloom carrots" ha ha! Good times. 26. HERE IS SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED! It turned out that Beth Concepcion, the Dean of Liberal Arts, with whom we were having dinner, USED TO DATE BARRY MILLS! That's right, "Barry B." of "blog" "fame"! "The only ghost story I was ever a part of involved Barry Mills," she said. To which I replied, "Was it the old sea captain?" To which she cried, "Yes!" I knew all about the ghost in Barry's old house. But SHE had heard the relentless footsteps of the mysterious old salt himself! 27. It must have been about this time that I splashed seafood broth all over the lapels of my purplish jacket, and that's okay. Like the "magic jacket" before it, it may be up for retirement. Oh, purplish jacket, you are too much for this sad world! 28. Elizabeth and I had a nightcap at the hotel bar, where they were trying to sell an oil painting of a lion for $30,500.
Here I am pretending to kiss it for reasons that seemed amusing and even sensible at the time. 29. Let's skip straight to the tiny airplane that would take me from Atlanta to Tupelo. "For weight and balance purposes, we need all of you to sit in rows 9-12, no matter what your ticket says," announced the flight attendant. Weight and balance purposes! I don't want to hear about your weight and balance purposes when the airplane is about to take off. One guy just kept sitting there in row 7 and he was really freaking me out! Didn't he care about the weight and balance purposes? 30. A fellow passenger - she in awesome zebra-print pants and elaborately tooled boots - volunteered that she liked my jacket! Broth-spattered as it was. 31. I fell asleep on the runway and was awakened by the distinct feeling of someone vigorously shaking my shoulder. No one was there, of course. "Well, this is a good sign," I reckoned. 32. I have to get on just seven more freaking airplanes in the next few weeks. 33. We got off the ground. The airplane started pitching around and making ghost noises, like, Woooooo! Wooooooo! Zebra Pants moved up next to a nice guy she had met. She was across the aisle from me now. This guy was a trucker who was set to haul a load to Kansas when he landed. I said to Z.P., "This plane is making ghost noises!" She said, "I'M SCARED!" And then she said, "You can reach over and grab my hand if you want." I declined. 34. But I noticed that by the end of the flight she was holding hands with the trucker. Aw! Their names were Veronica and Ray. Safe travels! 35. I don't want to be too hard on Silver Airways. Back on the ground in Tupelo a worker raced across the tarmac toward me, clutching the paperback of THE DRINKING DEN I had accidentally left behind on the plane.