Apropos Andalusia

Jerimiah sent me an article yesterday: “Apropos your paper,” he said. It was from the New Yorker, it was titled: “How Racist was Flannery O’Conner?” Great, I sighed toward him, sitting across the room from me. Thanks for this. He smiled. Seemed appropriate. He’s not wrong. I’ve been assigned Mary Flannery O’Conner for my presentation next month in my Southern Fiction class, and I’ve decided to use “A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories” as my in, as I also have to do a scholarship review of her work, and a semester-long paper on her as well. I’d been debating, as late as this morning, whether I’d hit the road for Andalusia this week.

Andalusia is O’Conner’s estate in Milledgville, Georgia, a two-hour drive from my house. I’ve decided, as I approach my 39th birthday and await the test results for this autoimmune disease I’m battling—likely Lupus (O’Conner died at 39 from Lupus), that I should make the pilgrimage. But I’ve been dragging my feet, for reasons above, and now this.

I’ve always been a fan of O’Conner. Always stood up for her, always sidestepped any unseemly information, but this time I can’t. What I can’t decide, and what the articles ask us to consider, is whether O’Conner was just a product of her raising. Or if something more sinister went on there, between her writing about racism, and plucking along among the peacocks.

I read the article. I looked at the stack of scholarly reviews I have sitting on my desk. I tapped my fingers on my chin. I cursed my husband. Misdirected anger.

I’ll go to Andalusia because I want to see for myself. Because I’m just curious enough to want to turn the knob on the old farmhouse door, just naive enough to believe an old cotton plantation in central Georgia will fill me in on the past.

Besides, it appears I have a deadline now. And it’s coming up fast.

M.

It’s Just a Swimming Pool

“Which pool do you belong to?” Is a question that has popped up more than I’d like to say since we’ve lived in Georgia. I didn’t know the pool you belong to, sets you up for success or failure in Atlanta. I didn’t know a pool membership could set one up for success or failure. I didn’t know pool memberships were even a thing. But I didn’t know much about the Deep South until I got here.

Back home in the Midwest, and even just a few states North of here in Charlotte, pools are just public watering holes you pay a couple bucks to go to for an afternoon of fun. All the best subdivisions have them, but there’s no membership forms, a key fob just comes with your HOA dues. And I know y’all weren’t around back then, but we used to have a 31,000 gallon pool in our backyard, so your pool has to be top-notch to impress us. But, here. Well here the competitive summer swimming pool racket is crazy. With some pools touting swim teams, and three level slides, and chili-cook offs (in this southern heat?!) and meal swapping, and babysitting, and new cars! Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but what I’m not exaggerating is the cost.

We were quoted from one “neighborhood” pool a price of $1,200 for our family of three to enjoy their amenities for three solid months. A “wise investment” the membership woman told me, at the start of a global pandemic. Think of the money I’ll save. Save from what? From whom? How? What is happening?

If you’re confused about what I’m saying right now, welcome to my life. This is a real thing, y’all. Just another way for people to judge you, I suppose. Which pool do I belong to?! I don’t. Not yet anyway.

That was a really long intro to say that we got invited to a pool party this weekend and we went and we had fun and it was with good people at a nice pool (that doesn’t cost $1,200 to join, and you don’t have to make reservations at because it’s not crowded because it isn’t a “cool” one.) It was quiet. It was carefree. People social distanced. Disinfected the tables and chairs. Kids jumped off the diving board. The crowd cheered. Libations were shared. It felt almost, for a split second, like summer. It was magical.

So I dunno. Maybe I’ll join a pool, after all. But until then, no, I don’t want to hear about your membership dues and no I don’t care if your private-school kid meets his friends under the purple umbrella, and nah, I know your kind and I’m good. You stay in your swim lane, I’ll stay in mine.

Jesus, y’all. It’s just a swimming pool.

Missy

Alone

I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve been watching an abundance of television the last couple of weeks. I guess I’ve reached the point in quarantine where nothing satisfies me for too long. That coupled with the fact that I’ve been out with this back/muscle/joint pain and haven’t had a much energy, so television has been my friend. I started this new show called “Alone”. Have you watched this? It’s stupid. And bizarre. And addicting.

Okay, so I started with season six because it was the newest one that was “trending” so I had no idea what happened. Turns out they take like ten people, drop them in the wilderness with 10 “survival” items, a 60-pound pack of cameras and recording equipment, and a picture of their loved ones. The contestants then record themselves as they try to survive. Or get eaten by a Grizzly. I dunno, I haven’t watched all the seasons.

I was trying to explain this show to Jerimiah, in a way that sounded appealing, but he wasn’t having any of it. “I can’t do survivor shit” he said. Oh, okay. I didn’t realize you had reality television standards, you Tiger King lovin’ MFer.

Then I tried to explain it to Jackson, hoping I’d get him to sit down to one episode with me and get hooked, like Barry, contestant #7 who didn’t eat for nine days then snagged a Lake Trout. But he looked me directly in the eye and said, “Do they not have internet in the Arctic Circle?”

So it turns out my new favorite show “Alone” is something I’m forced to watch alone. But that’s okay, I don’t mind. I’m too busy shouting through the television at Lucinda who keeps cutting herself with her own arrow. Jesus, Lucinda.

M.

Maybe It was the Tequila

A weird thing happened last weekend. Well, a couple of weird things happened. On Friday I had to take a Covid-19 test because I woke up with body aches, chills, and a fever. No doctor would see me, so I had to do a Telehealth visit with Atlanta Urgent Care at Emory, then visit a drive-thru testing site. The doctor treated me with antibiotics and steroids starting Friday, because I am susceptible to sinus infections, which I also had symptoms of, and the steroids were because they have found that starting Prednisone at the first symptoms of Covid-19 helps you stay out of the hospital, so it was a preventative measure. After my drive-thru testing on Friday afternoon, I was instructed to self-isolate until my test came back in three to six days. So I did, except for Saturday afternoon.

I was still feeling achy on Saturday so I suggested the hot tub to see if it would help. It did! But while we were out there Jerimiah drank a pitcher of margaritas. Which would be fine, if we didn’t have a Kroger order to pick up that evening. I mean, one of us had to drive to pick up the birthday cake I had planned on getting the day before, but ended up sick in bed instead. The best laid plans, or something like that… So I said no big deal, I’d just drive us both up there. It’s a simple process. You just open your trunk, they stick the bags inside, then it closes. It’s a contact-less pick-up so I felt okay about being in the car, with my mask on, even though I was self-isolating. And it would have been fine, had we not witnessed a hit-and-walk-away accident on the way.

Ten minutes later we were at the busy intersection of Lavista and I-285, which is the perimeter that runs around Atlanta. We live about a mile from The Perimeter and were headed into Atlanta, which is where our Kroger store is, when we were stopped at the stoplight while the traffic coming from the interstate was merging onto Lavista. A sudden noise caught our attention and we looked over to see an SUV smoking, its fender barely hanging on, the driver sort of sitting, while the cars bottlenecked behind him. There was some honking, everyone was kind of wondering what was happening. Then just as our light turned green and we started to go, the SUV also went (he had a red light). He realized his error, I suppose, but instead of stopping he turned into oncoming traffic. Everyone stopped their cars and watched the next few moments unfold.

The SUV was headed straight toward the oncoming traffic, while on the overpass above the interstate. The northbound traffic had no idea he was there, as they were now merging onto Lavista from the interstate, so he quickly tried to get back onto the correct side of the road, where he slammed into another SUV who was merging from the interstate as well. It was a mess. By this time we had slowly but surely made our way up through the next light and were the second car behind the accident, so we saw everything. Jerimiah immediately called the police, which several other people were doing. I instinctively jumped out of the car and ran to check the woman who had been hit. As I approached she gave me a thumbs up. She was already on her phone, presumably to the police or her partner. While I was walking up I noticed that the man who was driving the SUV got out of his car, he seemed fine, and started to walk to the woman he had hit, then stopped for a moment, and turned and walked the other way. Like, he just walked away from the scene.

Fortunately several other people were out of their cars at this point, and someone who was on the phone with the police actually followed the man as he walked away. He never ran, he never even hastened his footsteps. It was a bizarre thing to see.

At this point I heard yelling and a man was crossing the highway running toward me (I was directing traffic at this point) telling me to chase the guy. The man approached me quickly and I didn’t have to time to respond or ask him to back up. He was very close to my face. Too close. I could smell the tequila on his breath. Ironic, as I could smell Jerimiah’s too. This man, however, wasn’t talking quite right and he was making wild gestures with his hands. I caught a glimpse of his teardrop tattoo below his eye and I asked where he came from. “The Interstate,” he said. I didn’t know what to make of that, but he seemed like he was trying to be helpful, at first. Then a few minutes of following me around while I was pointing at cars, and informing people of what was happening, the man with the tear drop tattoo started talking about, “The Black man” who was “getting away…” and how he was tired of “Black men getting away.” Luckily Jerimiah came up to us at that point and the “Interstate Man” walked away.

The police were there rather quickly, I had time to move our car, and make my way back to see Jerimiah giving a statement along with the woman who was in the car in front of us. Everyone else had left. The woman in the car was okay, I took pictures of the accident for her. Her car would not turn on so the window would not roll down so she could talk to me, but we talked through the window. It was all very odd, a little scary, and unexpected for many reasons. When Jerimiah was giving his statement he learned the car was stolen, and that the police were able to find and apprehend the suspect, as he had just continued to walk coolly, calmly, down the highway. Drugs, they assumed. Drugs, I had assumed.

Or maybe it was just tequila.

M.

Spades and Hearts

There’s an interesting thing that happens in Small Town, USA. When one of the “pretty girls” who barely graduates high school, marries a man with a little money, after her inevitable “Sleeping with as many men as she can” phase (no shame here ladies, you do you, BooBoo!) she settles down, with the man with money. Maybe he owns his own small business. Maybe he has inherited a bit of cash. Maybe he has inherited the small business and some cash, but either way he’s the best thing she’s ever had, and they get married. Now she already has a kid or two from other men (that’s she has most surely missed out on from time to time on account of her partying well into her 20s), but the nice, business man takes them on as his own. Then suddenly, this trashy, “street-wise” girl is an upstanding citizen in the small town she grew up in. Funny thing is though, many of the people who knew her way back when, still remember her. So she has two choices: She either embraces who she was, who she has always been, or she starts to turn on them. Even turning her back on the people who knew her the best.

Now let me stop for a second because you are probably like this sounds really pointed, Missy. Sure. I know some people who have done this, and they now believe themselves to be a big fish in a small pond, because, well they are. It’s true, they are big fish, but the point is actually really very small, and kind of trashy. The fish are stocked. And they are farm-raised. Eww. But the person I am envisioning right now could be any woman, in any small town, in any community, a woman so rooted in fear, hate, and ignorance that she can only thrive on putting other women down. She’s incredibly shallow and so materialistic that she enjoys talking money with people that she suspects has less than her, so she can, what? Feel better about herself? I suppose if she were happy in her life, like really happy, she wouldn’t be this way. But she isn’t. She’s actually very unhappy. If she were a kind person, she wouldn’t need to embarrass those same friends who have stood by her, even at her worst, and believe me, we’ve heard the stories, saw them with our own eyes, there were worsts. But she isn’t kind or nice. And she isn’t classy. Which is ironic and sad, because that is the only thing she actively strives to be, yet she never will attain.

Yeah, we all know someone like this, and we all talk in certain circles about how horrible of a person she is, some of us even pray for her, some of us just stay far away from her. But we can’t anymore, y’all. We have to call a spade a spade. Call it like we see it. She will. She likes to remind us that she speaks truth, even the hard stuff, but we know that’s a lie. She only speaks rudeness and abrasion. She couldn’t speak truth if it came up and bit her. All her truth is filtered thorough a set of rose-colored glasses sprinkled with money and privilage. Like when someone accuses her child of say, raping a girl he went to high school with, she can say, “Well, I never…” in a raspy kinda way. And go on to talk about all his accolades, as if he isn’t an actual piece of shit. Rose colored glasses. Money. Privilege. Yes, we all know someone like this, but what should we call her? I have an idea, let’s give her a nickname let’s call her “T”. Yes, “T”, short for “Texarkana.” So who is this Texarkana?

Texarkana didn’t have the best life growing up, but who did? Most normal people battle against the current, try as they might to make something better of themselves. But not Texarkana. She just relied on men to bring her all the things she wanted. Just like how she now relies on the outside world to keep a spotlight on her. To fulfill her desires. Because she can never fulfill them herself. Oh Texarkana, you are enough, if you’d just look within. Or go to therapy. Yeah, therapy would probably help you a lot. Something about inflated ego. But instead you self-medicate. It’s okay a lot of common people do.

Texarkana likes to say things like, “Remember when…” because she likes to envision herself as she used to be. Way back when. Wayback When Texarkana had so much joy, pure joy, albeit not a lot of money (she still doesn’t by the way, she just has a lot of debt, you can pull public records and see that) and Texarkana likes to talk about how “badass” she was back then. As if physically fighting other women is a mark of a pure genius. That’s that lack of education I eluded to earlier, are y’all following along? Ra, ra, ra! Go Texarkana!

Texarkana likes to invite people to her house. People she assumes have never been in such a self-described “lovely” place. Then she likes to talk about how much she paid for this, or how much she paid for that. You know those people. The ones who think money makes you a good person. It’s sad, and a little bit outdated. I’m speaking of both Texarkana and the lovely house. They both need some work on the inside. But the visitors smile and nod anyway, they have to, or she won’t invite them to drink her medication, err, booze.

Something I’ve noticed about people, growing up poor like I have, wealthy people, like really, really wealthy people, never discuss money. Not with their friends, not in mixed company. They only discuss assets and money with their accountants. They never say things like, “My house is worth $1.2 Million” (wouldn’t “T” love to have a house that nice!) instead they say things like, “We’d love to have you join us at our summer home in The Hamptons sometime,” and they truly mean it. Class speaks for itself. Trash, well, it has to do all the talking.

Which brings me back to “T” and her constant, oppressive desire to make all her “old” friends, the ones who know the truth about her, the way she really is, feel like shit because they didn’t “make it” like she did. But in reality she just needs to keep them in check. Needs to make sure that they know she is the spade Queen, in case they get out of line. In case they say something like, “Remember when you slept with So-and-So?” and So-and-So is not a likable fellow, she can smack them, figuratively of course, by saying something like, “Have you paid that large debt off that you owe?”

“T” thrives on making herself feel better by putting others down. No one is off limits. She will only tell you the best things about her kids, and never the worst, while often reminding you of all the bad stuff your kids do. But come on, we’ve met her kids. She dropped the proverbial parenting ball big time. But remember the free booze and her Instagrammable backyard?! She will make you feel bad about your kids, your divorce, your grandma. She will talk about you behind your back, then embrace you when you walk in her “lovely” door, all the while smiling that knowing smile to her “rich” (read: equally in debt) friends behind your back. Have you ever felt like everyone is looking at you when you walk into a room? It’s because “T” told the whole room your dirty little secrets before you got there in order to make herself seem important. She’s such a great friend, isn’t she?

Now every once in a while a funny thing happens to “T”. Something doesn’t exactly go her way. Her stock plummets. Not real stock, she puts all her money in home accents and ATVs. No her brand, her reputation. Something happens outside of her control and it makes her look bad. It makes her outside match her inside. Maybe her husband loses an important business client. Maybe her drunk brother resurfaces. Maybe her child marries someone she rather despises like a butcher or a mechanic! Oh my! A mechanic, well we all know mechanics are not the highest class of people. The drama! It’s okay, no worries. Texarkana lives for this shit. I mean, when your whole world revolves around what others think of you, and you have very little worth inside, you have to love drama, it is escapism at its finest.

But this plummeting of stock is when we see “T” at her finest. Oh, glory, glory! She starts plotting and planning! How can she turn this into a win? How can she get the universe back into her favor? You’re right, on the backs of other people. Her friends. Her own family. She starts fights within the groups, pits this one against that one. Uses her control (money) to buy affection, alliance. She will plant an idea in the simple brain of the simple people she keeps around her, then watch as it sprouts and grows. As those simple-minded people then turn on their own friends and family. Wow, maybe “T” isn’t as uneducated as we think? I mean she lacks book smarts, sure, but when you can get a mother and daughter to turn on each other, ones who have nothing to do with your life, that’s impressive. And also like, really, really pathetic. Don’t you sorta want to grab “T” and yell, “Get a life, girl! Go to college! Get a hobby! You’re more than this. You have self worth! I hope you can find it!” Did I mention Texarkana is extremely jealous of big, happy families who love and support each other? Two guesses why that is…

Now let’s discuss the people who let her treat them the way they do. You might be wondering, what kind of hold does she have over them? And if your guess is money, you’d be right. There is no friendship still there. They don’t like her, not really, and she certainly wishes they would go away, but everyone is aging (did I mention “T” isn’t aging well? All those days spent in tanning beds in the 90’s.) Anywho, as we age we start to feel nostalgic for those people who knew us when we were all cranked out on MiniThins and going to three different tanning beds a day to tan for a solid hour. So the people who knew her, her best friends, start to come around more. They want to drink wine and talk about the good days. But you can’t have real, honest-to-God talks with “T”. You can’t have them with anyone who thinks they are a better person that you at their core, just because they are a small business owner and you make $14/hr. There’s too much space, too many bad words (even if you don’t know she said them) to make much headway. So you go to her “lovely” house. You sit on her “lovely” deck. You drink her boxed wine, and you discuss the good old days through those rose-colored glasses she is so fond of. But in reality, you’d rather be somewhere else, she’d rather you be somewhere else. You remind her of a girl she is desperately trying to run from, all these decades later. She’s full of shame and guilt. You’re full of shame and guilt. But she has the money and credit to go buy a new car today if she wants to. So she wins.

It makes me think about Trump. What, come on Missy, why you always gotta bring Trump up?! No hear me out! The people who LOVE Trump, his honest supports, of which “T” and her whole family are, the real Trump supporters don’t really even like him. They don’t know enough about him to like him. They like the idea of him. They only vote for him for three distinct reasons:

1. They desperately want to BE him. They wish they had Trump money and power. They have a small taste of it in their little, trashy pond, just enough where they feel like Trump would love them if they met. They think they are so much like him that he would totally love and respect them if they met. Ha! They really think that, I promise! They are sitting, right now, in their little 4,000 square feet, barely more than half a million dollar house (public records, y’all) and they think they are just like Trump! True story.

2. They have so much hate in their hearts that they want him to be the president just so they can say, “WE WON! WE WON!” and call you a Snowflake or something, while they prance around in their red hats. They have to always believe they are winning at life. Always. Otherwise they downward spiral.

3. They are desperately afraid. They are so afraid that their way of life, the one they have carefully curated over literal decades will somehow be taken from them. Maybe they will have to pay more taxes. Maybe their “poor” friends will get a leg up on them if they finally get affordable health insurance. Maybe people in their periphery, the ones coming up behind them, the ones making more money, living well-adjusted, meaningful lives, the happy youth (raise you hand here), will take over and they will be left with, what? They certainly don’t have their self-worth to fall back on. So good thing that have that old house?

Well, I’m spent. Here’s the gist, y’all. If you have a Texarkana in your life you have get the courage to stand up to her or him. To finally call a spade a spade, because make no mistake, they will call it if you don’t. Only the spade they call will actually be a heart they have twisted in their small, common minds to look like a spade, then they will run out and tell everyone it is a spade before you can get a chance to defend your heart.

As for Texarkana, I can only hope she uses her fast-approaching senior years to learn more about the world, to step outside her comfort zone, to learn and grow as a person. I don’t hate the Texarkanas of the world. I know it may seem like that, but y’all know I don’t hold hate in my heart like that. But I also don’t admire her, and I certainly don’t respect her. How can you respect a person who preys on the simple, the weak, the less fortunate? In fact, a whole lot of the people she surrounds herself with don’t actually admire and respect her. They placate her. They see her life, her marriage, her kids. The fact that she has to work so hard all day, everyday just to keep up the facade in order to feel better about herself, and they pity her. They pray for her. Her name is passed around in Baptist prayer circles for wishing her some peace and kindness in her heart. They know that she has struggles, has had them, still continues to have them, just like they do, but that unlike them, she refuses to acknowledge her real struggles, with your real heart. She keeps that spade around instead. But there they are, still coming around, probably for the free booze, but also, more likely, because they are the hearts, and they wish more for her. There was a time when she had those real people, their kindness, their true friendship, their whole hearts. She had their admiration and respect. But she lost them. I hope it was worth it for her.

M.

Four Days of Protests

I’ve been trying to write this post for a couple of weeks now, but every time I sit down to write it I get upset and I can’t find the words. The thing is, we are not new to protesting. We are not new to marching for what we think is right, for having counter-protesters scream horrible things at us, but for some reason this time it was harder than before and I couldn’t pinpoint what made it so difficult to stomach.

Last month Jerimiah, Jackson, and I took part in socially-distanced, peaceful protests in our suburban Atlanta town with our friends Kelley and Bella, and it was exactly what we needed to be doing. We met Kelley and Bella through school (Jackson and Bella were in the same class) and immediately felt connected to them. They are cool, too cool for us. They are kind. They are smart, and funny, and socially conscious. We feel so proud to call them friends, which is why the day we drove by (after getting ice cream) and saw them standing on the corner of Lavista and Main Streets with signs supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement, along with about 20 other people, we were like SIGN US UP! That sparked three days in a row of us standing on the same corner with our friends holding homemade signs (that we hastily made from material from The Dollar Tree), as well as taking part in a much larger protest on Saturday, June 6th with about 300 people. It was an amazing learning experience for the kids, for both good reasons and not so good ones.

Of course protests, especially ones in small towns like ours, are sure to bring out the counter-protesters, or simply the mean people who are mad at your very existence. They see protestors as “unsightly,” and of course they feel guilty when they see you out with your “Silence is violence” signs. But I honestly didn’t expect it on that first night we were out there with our signs, and if it weren’t for seeing it with my own eyes I would have not believed how horrible people could be. How filled with hate people are. How angry and afraid full-grown men are, that they feel called to lash out at people, even women and children. I’m not going to talk about them here, because it detracts from what we accomplished, but just know that grown men and women flipped us off, screamed things back at us, and even walked up and down along with us trying to push white supremacy agendas. It was sad and gross, and yes, we let the children watch them, because they need to know that there are people like this in the world.

Meanwhile our kids, our smart, strong, funny, rising 6th graders, smiled at everyone, held their fists up in solidarity, took a knee, not once but twice, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on hot, crowded streets to show their solidarity with George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and people who are like them, and not like them. We were so incredibly proud. They even made up their own chants, and taught them to the other kids. Then they separated themselves in front of what will one day be their high school and chanted IN THE RAIN. For real. Look.

But this was on the second night of protests, the first night was very hot, and a little more crowded, and somewhat chaotic.

The first night of protests (for us) we met with the Mayor who, although I am not a fan, was very polite. He thanked us for what we were doing, and gave the kids a token of appreciation to remember the occasion. It was a coin with out town’s logo on it, and Jackson thought it was pretty cool.

The second night we were rained on a bit, but didn’t mind, it felt nice after the heat. We had police escorts at all protests, thank you DeKalb County Police, and we had city council members, and supporters who honked, honked, honked all night at us in solidarity. Some screamed “Black Lives Matter” out the window, some threw their fists in the air, some just smiled and waved.

The Essentials: Masks, hand sani, signs, and water. Thank goodness for the other protesters who shared with us that first night. We were not prepared!

At one point Kelley and I saw an older man walking his dog in front of the high school. We were a little worried at first, he looked like a lot of the people who were flipping us off, but he walked up behind us smiling and meandered toward us sort of unsure. Kelley, being the outgoing and friendly person she is, said hi to him and told him that his dog was so cute. He smiled and walked a bit closer. He introduced himself as Joe and said that he loved that we were out there. Then he told us to look straight down Main Street. He asked if we knew that yellow building, the one that was a Halal restaurant. “Sure,” we said, “it is called Bombay.” It’s an old building that sits on the corner or Main and Lawrenceville Highway, about half a block from our kids new middle school.

“Well,” said Joe, “did you know that used to be the office of the Grand Wizard of the KKK?” Kelley and I were stunned. No, we didn’t know that. We didn’t realize how close we were to KKK territory. He said this sight, our children protesting on this corner, was just, well, perfect. He told us to keep on keeping on, then Joe and his old doggy walked back home.

The next day Kelley confirmed the story. She had researched it when she went home and found that along with our town once being an epicenter for the KKK, Stone Mountain, yes that Stone Mountain, was also. I mean it makes sense if you’ve ever visited Stone Mountain, but it was new to us since we are still fairly new to this area. If you’d like to read more, check out this article about Stone Mountain, our town is about ten minutes from the mountain.

We protested on this street corner for a few more nights, then we met up on a Saturday for the bigger protest. For a couple of city blocks, people were standing six-feet apart, masked up, with signs, chanting and raising fists. Ten minutes before we left we took a knee. Three hundred or so people taking a knee on the city streets as cars whizzed by honking and waving and yelling, “Thank you!” That was my favorite.

After the protest I asked Jackson what he learned. What new information he gathered from his days of protesting. “Not much,” he said. “I already knew that most people are good, and some people aren’t, and those people will probably never change.” Man, he’s right. I told him so. Then I added that those people aren’t worth your energy to try to change. I reminded him to start with the people who want to listen and work your way out. I told him to always vote. Always speak goodness into existence. Always, always do what is right and true. He shook his head and said, “That’s what we did.” We sure did. I told him more that day, but I think he learned more from my actions than my words.

Thanks, Kelley, and Bella, and Jackson, and Jerimiah. Thanks to those of you all over the world who are striving to do what is true and what is right. We have your back. Always.

M.

Shit or Get Off the Pot

Things are a hot mess in Atlanta right now. We had a deadly Fourth of July weekend, several children have been shot in the last week, and Covid-19 never really left. But yesterday morning our governor decided to be a real governor and say something about the violence. I mean, God forbid he take action to help save us from the global pandemic that is sweeping our state, or listen to what the people in Atlanta (the largest municipality and the capital of the state) are angry about, but “extra” violence in Atlanta, that warrants a stern talking to. Matter of fact he said, “While we stand ready to assist local leaders in restoring peace and maintaining order, we won’t hesitate to take action without them.” Well, hold up, let me rephrase, he Tweeted that. So he didn’t actually address the problem on a public stage, he didn’t actually do anything, he just sat at his desk and Tweeted his ideas. Sound like anyone else we know?

The problem isn’t so much the fact that he threatened the city, it’s that once again he didn’t do shit about a problem until a domestic spotlight was shone upon us, then he threatened. Remember how we have talked about leadership coming from the top down? Atlanta, like all other large municipalities, has a very particular set of problems, and because of it’s shear size, it makes it difficult to fix many of these problems, especially when you want to just fix them overnight. Listen, I’ve only been here a little over a year, but I can already see that the way things have been going, are not helping. This is an instance where, “But it’s always been done that way,” isn’t working and things need to be changed, and I know I sound like a broken record here, but it starts with voting. Then it moves out from there. Volunteering. Donating. Sharing knowledge you gain. Educating people.

When we moved to Atlanta a year ago we were nervous. We had heard horrible things about the city we have come to love. The horrible things were mainly racist bullshit that out-of-towners don’t feel comfortable talking about. That was our first lesson. Because when you really strip Atlanta down, down to its roots, it isn’t pretty, but it’s important. Vital, even. Like did you know Atlanta and the Black vote was the single biggest game-changer in getting John F. Kennedy elected back in 1960? I didn’t either, until I came here and had a history lesson.

Say what you will about Atlanta, but until you are here, living in it, taking the Marta to historical places, reading about the culture and society (which by the way some people who have lived here for 20 years don’t even do or know about) then I won’t listen to you anymore. I can’t. I won’t listen to our racist, hypocritical governor either. I can’t. Too many people are dying here. Too many people need help. And I’ve been waxing for a year now about how I can help. Saying I can’t, or I shouldn’t, it isn’t my place. But the fact is, this is my place. This is my home. I don’t know how long it will be, but it is now and that is all that matters. I’m a Georgian now. I live in a suburban town just steps outside the perimeter and I have two choices: I can tell people I live in Tucker, where the schools are sweet and the people are all wonderful, and the houses are big and there is opportunity for growth, or I can say I live in the Atlanta Metro and we need help. A lot of fucking help.

When I was little and I needed to make a decision about one thing or another, about what my actions needed to be, and I was stuck and so very afraid my mom would say, “Welp Missy, it’s shit or get off the pot time,” and I’m finally feeling that here in Atlanta. It’s time to either dig in and help, put in the time, and the effort, and the heart, or it’s time to leave. Stay my happy-ass in the comfortable parts of life. I’ll give you one guess what I’m about to do…

It’s time to shit or get off the pot, y’all. What are you gonna do?

M.

Well Hello…

I have some new followers! I love new followers, but I hate that word “follower.” I prefer friends! I have some new friends! We shall all welcome them with open arms. Hello, friends! Welcome! Grab a White Claw, or a bottle of wine, or maybe some iced tea (we are in The South after all) and sit a spell while I tell you a bit about myself. My name is Missy. (Really it’s Melissa but when I was a born in the 80s my stone-washed jeans wearing sisters thought Missy sounded radical, so there you have it.) I go by Melissa when I am feeling “formal” or when I don’t know people very well, but I do prefer Missy. I’m not the type of person to offer that up when we first meet, nicknames sometimes scare people, so you’ll usually know me a little while when someone will call me Missy and you’ll be all, Wait, who is Missy? You mean Melissa? And they will be all, Who is Melissa? And that’s pretty much all you need to know about me. Just kidding.

I’m married to a lovely middle-aged, white man whom I often make fun of for being a middle-aged, white man but check this, he is faaaaar from the kinda guy you are thinking of. Sure, on the outside he looks the part, and a lot of old ladies grab his hand to tell them all about his church (like his atheist-ass cares), but he politely listens, nods along, and says, That sounds really nice! Occasionally other middle-aged, white men who do not know him very well will suggest having a beer, and they will end up saying some whacked-out racist shit, or something about how our current president is “fiscally responsible” or maybe throw in a homophobic joke, and my husband will be all, Oh, so you’re an asshole. Then he will pay his tab (but not theirs) and leave. He’s cool like that.

We have an 11-year-old son who is starting sixth grade in the fall. Middle school. I’m not going any further than that because I remember middle school, vividly, and I am terrified for him and for me. He’s supersonic smart though. He’s in the STEM program, robotics team, band, etc, etc. You’ll like him a lot and often remark how mature he is for his age, but that’s just because he doesn’t feel comfortable enough around you to make fart noises under his arm. Just yet. Otherwise he is honest, kind, considerate, and his three favorite television shows are: The Office, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

The dogs, Jesus I forgot about the dogs. Okay listen, we had this amazing dog for nearly 14 years. Her name was Bentley and she was my actual ride-or-die (yeah, I say ride or die and I don’t know if it is hyphenated or not). She was a chocolate lab mix and also the best dog in the whole world. But in 2018 her health problems caught up with her and we had to put her down a couple months shy of her 14th birthday. Then I did what I always do, I had a breakdown and over-compensated by getting not one, but two dogs. Sir Duke Barkington of Charlotte came first. He is a standard poodle and he’s hella fancy and honestly I can’t with him sometimes. He wears bow ties, and prefers to be professionally groomed with a blow out. We just celebrated his second birthday with a surprise celebration on April 30th, because quarantine.

Then there is Lady Winifred Beesly of Atlanta. Winnie came to us at the beginning of quarantine because who didn’t think it was the perfect time to go on Craigslist and adopt a dog that someone had bought and realized they were allergic to and didn’t know what to do with?! She’s part standard poodle and part great pyranees and I know what you are thinking, what does that dog look like? Answer: A hot fucking mess. But we love her.

Okay, so I think that’s the gist of life around here. We live in Metro Atlanta. We are pro-choice (I’ll tell you about my daughter sometime), LGBTQIA+ allies, active members in the Black Lives Matter Movement, and we are Bernie supporters who will be voting for Biden in November because shiiiiiiit. My husband has his MBA and works in finance, I write and piddle around the house yelling about politics and who the hell shit on the floor?! It’s usually a dog.

This blog houses everything from my distorted, meandering thoughts to stories of my childhood, to actual lists of whatever I am thinking at any given moment. I talk a lot about mental health, family, and writing. I made a promise to myself to blog everyday this year, and with the exception of two weeks ago when I took a break to help #MuteTheWhiteNoise and #AmplifyBlackVoices I have written everyday this year. So, there’s a lot to read and digest here. I also have a page with my published writings if you are so inclined. Thanks for reading today and thanks for being on this crazy ride!

Stay safe and sane, y’all.

M.

Facebook Friday

On Friday I woke up, looked at the news and knew exactly what most of my friends and family would be talking about on social media: Riots. Looting. How violence was sweeping our nation in the wake of the murder or George Floyd. My first thought was, great, here we go again. Then I thought, wait, Can I help in some way? Can I try to open a dialogue with my white family and friends about why this is happening? I’ve been trying for the last year to understand the structural racism that our country was founded on. The same structural racism that our country began with–kill the Native Americans, move them to reservations, and take their land–and kept up with like an unspoken mantra for decades. The same structural racism that made Black people a fraction of a person. That made a rich country on the backs of minorities. The same structural racism that allows us to be okay with children dying in cages at the border, today. The same that makes “Not all cops are bad” as the only proper response to the killing of George Floyd. What I know and what other white (and some Black) people don’t yet realize is that our country was founded on these idea. Keep the minorities down. And as long as we don’t talk about it, just do it, all will be well.

So I got the bright idea to let myself be on Facebook all day long. Now y’all know I have been limiting my access to Facebook to 15 minutes a day for about eight months now, and it has done wonders for my mental health. I mean I would spend all day on there. I would work with the Facebook tab open. I would compulsively check my phone all day to see if someone “liked” or commented on something. That’s how I got my news, my recipes, my pictures of cute dogs and babies. But alas, I learned you can get all those from other places, and that the less time I spend on social media the better I feel. Now I know this is not the case for some of you. We know what social media is at its worst, but at its best it can do amazing things. It’s just that I am programmed to focus on the bad stuff, so it doesn’t work for me like it might others, and that’s okay. But yesterday I asked Jerimiah (the keeper of my Facebook time) to give me access all day. He put in the password, handed me the phone, then asked if that was a good idea. Of course, I almost screamed, I’m doing good today!

What I ended up doing was getting sucked right back into the “bad.” I got sucked back into sharing my opinion on other people’s pages, who quite frankly, were not as “woke” as me? Yeah, let’s say that. White fragility is real, y’all. I’ve been reading about it, but I wasn’t sure until I read something that a Black activist wrote a few weeks ago and suddenly I was offended. All, Well how could she say that about me? How could she clump me in with those white people? She doesn’t know me, look I’m different, I have experience with this, I blah, blah, blah… Then I was like, Oh shit, I just highlighted her point exactly.

White people, especially women, get so upset when you share truth with them, so offended, that they lash out. Not all, but most. Count me as one of them. One of them who is working on not being that way. How dare we suggest white women are just more of the same? Well, how do you think it makes Black people feel when you use stereotypes on them? When our culture, our society, has taught these stereotypes. Jesus, more than half of my white friends and family aren’t even friends with a Black person. They don’t even know Black people. Or they haven’t lived in a predominantly Black community. So they only know these stereotypes and these ideas about Black culture from what they have been taught by society.

Then there were the Not All Cops Are Bad people. No one that I know, or have talked to recently has claimed all cops are bad. Matter fact, I know several people in Law Enforcement. And the people I know and am related to would probably, I’d like to think at least, stick up for people like George Floyd. But who can say. Atlanta’s Police Chief Erika Sheilds said it best, she said, “As law enforcement officers, we tend to put ourselves in the shoes of the police officer who is detaining. We have been there. We get that space. We need to stop seeing it that way. We need to step back and see the whole situation. Some people just should not police, and those people should be swiftly seen for who they are and removed.” Yeah, that’s part of the whole point. That’s why we need mental health checks, and psych evaluations on people before they become police officers. Better training, oversight committees formed by the people of the city, the very people the police are policing.

If you think about it, being a LEO is just a smaller version of a politician. They are there to serve the community, to keep people safe. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights era when police officers were tasked with spraying SILENT protestors with hoses and pelting them with rubber bullets, that suddenly police (some of them) began to see themselves as the keeper of “right” and “wrong.” We gave power to them that must be restored. Do they have a dangerous job? Absolutely. Do they get shot at in the line of service? Do they die for no reason? Yes. Yes. What does it stem from, do you think? Structural racism? Lack of mental health care for people who need it? Yes. And yes. I’ve met, had actual conversions with LEOs who truly believe they are God. Who put on the uniform and become someone else. I once knew a cop in Leavenworth, a young guy, new to the force, who was married with a baby at home. He liked to use his badge to fuck with young people, young men especially. Why? He liked to have sex with guys, but he couldn’t tell his family he was gay, so he’d use his badge to prey on young men. Should he have been policing? Uhh, no. But did people think this stand-up, married, dad was doing what he was doing? Uhh, no.

Just because someone has a badge doesn’t make them inherently good. You should hear the stories I have heard about male police officers and how they have random sex and affairs with women. Take advantage of women. Rape women in custody. Cheat on their spouses, and think it’s okay because they are “the law” and besides, don’t women always says shit like, “I love a man in uniform…” Le sigh. That sort of power can go to someone’s head. I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes. And those people should not be policing. I also think many law enforcement officers have witnessed their colleagues say and do things to Black people that is offensive, violent, etc, and have stayed silent. No one wants to piss off a co-worker. No one wants to piss off people they have to see day in and day out. But when you do you are aiding the problem. I know this is hard for people with loved ones who are LEOs to hear. I know it is hard for the “Thin Blue Line” people to hear. But it doesn’t make it less true. Think on it.

Then there are the protesters. I had a couple of people reach out, which I always prefer, and ask why I condone rioting and looting. I don’t. They just assumed that I do because I called bullshit on structural racism. I reminded people that the anger and hatred that fueled the Boston Tea Party and the rioting and looting there is now taught in school as “Patriotism.” I reminded people that last month white men walked into their state capital with Ak-47s and demanded to be able to eat at TGIFridays without a mask, and our president called them “Good people who are just angry.” Then I reminded them that if a group of people protesting at a #BLM rally turn to looting (which by the way is not the intent of the #BlackLivesMatter movement), they are “thugs” and it is “violence” not “patriotism.” Why do you think that is? I have a hunch.

Jerimiah and I sat in awe last night as we watched instigators tear down Atlanta. It was shameful to see. Damn it, Jerimiah sighed. Because he knows, like I do and a lot of us, that now people will only see this protest, this peaceful, non-violent, planned protest, as a “riot.” And I get the anger from people who say, “I don’t condone this.” Most people don’t. Most of the protesters were long gone, and their were more than enough people telling CNN reporters, as they stood outside CNN and watched the agitators break the glass windows to their office, that they do not condone this. That isn’t what it was supposed to be about.

The thing that got me was the amount of white people they were interviewing, who were A. Not from Atlanta and B. Just there to start some shit. White people busting out windows, white people screaming at the cops, white people burning the flag, which by the way, doesn’t bother me. You can hate me all you want, but I don’t give two shits about the burning of a piece of cloth. Would I do it? Probably not. Not unless I thought I had a good enough reason, like my son was killed by cops then my president didn’t give a shit, or you know, something like that. But the newscaster was all, “This is hard to watch” as two white people burned an American flag, and Jerimiah and I looked at each other and were like, This? This is hard to watch? This is the part that is hard to watch? Now we see how infuriating it must be to silently protest and be told you’re doing it wrong. You can’t kneel. You can’t burn a piece of cloth. You can’t stand with your hands up. You can’t form a chain and peacefully walk from one part of the city and then back again. You can’t call out white supremacy.

I know too many people who have watched the KKK burn down a Black church and sigh and go, “Well, what can you do?” then to sit and listen to them bitch about a Target on fire. (Eye roll). But it doesn’t matter how people protest, it’s wrong in the eyes of the US government. Unless, as mentioned before, you are a white male protesting with automatic weapons on the steps of your state capital, then you cool. Otherwise, no. No kneeling in silent protest. No walking across bridges. No burning the flag in protest. No standing in the street with your hands raised. No chanting, “I can’t breathe.” You get what I’m slinging.

I was actually really happy with the way Atlanta handled it all on Friday. And I was really happy with the protest itself. We did not go because we don’t feel comfortable going to fucking Wingstop to pick up chicken wings right now, so you won’t find me at any political rallies, but I was happy that people let their feelings out. That pastors spoke. That healing happened. But it was negated by the chaos that followed. So now we have two choices: We can either focus on the rioting, or the problem and solution. Too many of y’all wanna focus on the rioting and I get why. It’s easier. It is a cut and dry situation. They burned a cop car. That is wrong. And easy to fix. And a pretty agreeable stance. Burning cop cars is bad. Killing and imprisoning Black men, hmm, that’s harder for some of you to work out.

The last thing I saw before I turned off the television was Dr. Bernice King. She came to the press conference Mayor Bottoms held in Atlanta. Mayor Bottoms was a mother up there. “Go home,” she said. “If you love this city, go home.” Of course as I said, many of the instigators were not from Atlanta, so no, they do not love this city. Most of Atlanta was already at home, worrying about how the city would look in the morning. Then T.I. spoke, then Killer Mike, then Dr. Bernice King. She reminded people that what you miss when you use her father’s words, “A riot is the language of the unheard…” is the part about the “unheard” and as long as there is rioting, you will continue to be “unheard.” And she’s right. But, we are taught, in this white supremacy world that we live in, to accept that the murder of an unarmed Black man in daylight by a police officer as “non-violence” but looting a Target as “violence.” And until we can all get on the same page about what the “problem” is, no one will be heard. On thing is for sure about watching angry people light cop cars on fire in the middle of downtown Atlanta, we have a problem in this country, and you can’t ignore it any longer.

Listen, I shared the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote the other day on Insta and FB. The one that said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” And a lot of people “Loved” and “Liked” it. Then when the protestors took to the street, y’all lost your voice. Got upset if someone put you in your place. Let your white fragility show. So which is it? Are you ready to speak up for all people. Black people being killed by cops. Brown people held in cages. Learn how to deal with it, learn how to combat it, learn how to better yourselves, or not? I know it is hard. I know it is hard to look at your overtly racist family member and say, “Stop. That is is not okay.” But if you don’t do it, who will?

I don’t know if I helped on Friday. I know I made my day a mess. My nerves were shot, and I just slipped into the hot tub with a glass of wine to forget it all. Isn’t that nice that I can do that? And I know I made mistakes. I know I reacted strongly to people, or didn’t truly understand what they were trying to say, all because I didn’t let it sink in. And I always welcome anyone to message me. To tell me how my words made them feel, even if it is anger. But I won’t tolerate passive-aggressive remarks, or blanket statements aimed at me. Like when the teacher yells at the whole class because they are mad at one student. Call me out on it, I don’t mind. You’ll feel better, and maybe I will have learned to see things from a different point of view. Or maybe I’ll realize you are a crazy person and unfriend you, who knows! And remember, that street goes both ways, y’all. You’ll never offend me if you need to unfriend me for your mental health. I will only respect you more.

Stay safe and sane, y’all.

M.

Now if you have read to the bottom, thanks! And if you really want to educate yourself, and you really want to try to do better then do what I have been doing for months. Read books about how to be anti-racist. Follow accounts that teach you how to help the Black Community. I’m leaving some suggestions below.

Follow:

The Conscious Kid on Instagram

Rep. John Lewis

Stacey Abrams

Rachel Elizabeth Cargle

Dr. Bernice King/The King Center

Brittany Packnett Cunningham

The hashtags: #BlackLivesMatter #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd #IRunWithAhmaud #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor

Read:

Lagniappe

We met a man last summer in Coastal Louisiana who was raised on the bayou. He used to hunt for and collect alligator eggs as a child, then hatch them and raise them in his bathtub until they got too big, then he and his brothers would take them back out to the swamp and drop them near where they found them. He spoke Louisiana-French, a creole language spoken across ethnic and racial lines, by people who consider themselves to be Cajun or Louisiana Creole, as well as Chitimacha, Houma, Biloxi, Tunica, Choctaw, Acadian, and/or French. Creole is the type of language they speak, but Cajun is derived from that. There is always a dominate language with pidgin languages known as the superstrate language, while the lesser is the substrate. In the case of the Cajun there is English, then French, then African, Spanish, and Native American. When it all converges in one person, the result can be wonderful and confusing. He told us how to “pinch the tail and suck the head,” showed us places we had never seen before, and explained that Lagniappe just means getting a little something extra than you paid for.

He would speak to the alligators primarily in French, then speak to us in English, then speak to his friend in Creole. He would codeswitch from one being to another, never skipping a beat, never missing an opportunity to tell his story to whomever would listen. Always with an eye on the alligator.

The man was our tour guide on the Atchafalaya River Basin, a combination of wetlands and river delta where the Atchafalaya and the Gulf of Mexico converge. The basin contains 70% forest habitat, and 30% open water. As far as wetland river basins go, it’s almost stable. It’s the largest contiguous block of forested wetlands left in the lower Mississippi River Valley, and the largest block of floodplain forest in the United States, with 260,000 acres of cypress-tupelo. It’s iconic, and terrifying, and a little bit surreal.

Soaring over the Atchafalaya Swamp we watched a baby and momma Osprey spread their wings from the top of a hollowed cypress. We saw a 12-foot alligator lead his blind friend to food. We overheard the story of the Louisiana Black Bear, and the floods, and the inoperable South Farm, and the ATV-traffic that threatens many of the existence there. We saw beaver dams, and otter running for their lives. We felt the slap of an alligator tail against the oiled metal of the boat. For the first time in my five years in The South, I let it grip me. Take ahold of my head and my heart. It was something I didn’t expect to happen, but something I am glad did. Like when you get an extra donut in the box.

M.

Sharpie Feet

You don’t really know how talented the world is, until you watch a man unroll three feet of paper, take his shoes off, stick Sharpies between his toes and draw a portrait of you and one of your best friends inside a Ruby Tuesday. Then, and only then, as you stand wide-eyed and wondering, do you realize you have witnessed the art of human nature. The art of imagination. The art of so many what-the-fucks that you have dreams, nay nightmares, for weeks about this particular man’s feet. And sweaty toes. And the courage, or is it madness, that some people possess inside their minds and bodies. Am I being a little over the top? Well, sure. But he could have warned me when he asked to borrow my Sharpies.

I worked in the restaurant business for years. Eventually I was in management, where I excelled at training people, making angry customers happy, and was the first line of defense in the interview process. We had this system at Ruby Tuesday. When someone would walk through the door with an application, an unsolicited one, a shift leader, or an assistant manager, or a trusted bartender, whomever was around, would be called to the front door to greet them. Then we’d do what we called a 60-second interview. Maybe it was 60 seconds. Maybe it was 90 seconds. I know there were people I spent less than 30 seconds with, people with sores around their mouths, itching their skin that appeared to be crawling with an unseen bug, while they asked about being paid in cash and whether or not we offered paid training.

Then there were people who caught my attention, who I invited to sit for a spell. I might even offer them a Coke or a Sweet Tea if they tickled my fancy. That’s what happened the day I met the man who would draw me with my own Sharpies. I was back in the kitchen, counting burger buns on the line, when the hostess caught my attention across the heat lamps. “You’re gonna wanna see this,” she said, then motioned to the front door. I gave her a quizzical look, and she mouthed, “I’m getting Erica too,” and headed to the manager’s office. I scrambled to take off my apron and beat them both up to the front. I always liked to get to crazy before Erica. Assess the situation, beat her to the punch, so that later when we laughed about the incident I could say I saw it first.

I jogged up through the restaurant like there was a salad bar emergency, which happened more than you’d feel comfortable knowing, while I smiled at customers who were shoving sliders and soup into their mouths. When I got to the front door there was a man at the hostess stand wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, holding a roll of white paper under his arms. An application was sitting on the hostess stand. I introduced myself, keenly aware that neither the hostess, nor Erica had made their way up to the front yet, which means they were sitting in the office watching me and this man on video to see what type of craziness was about to unfold.

I introduced myself. He handed me his application and asked me if I wanted to see something “cool as shit.” I looked up toward the camera and smiled. I did want to see something cool as shit, and I knew other people who did too. I escorted him to the larger dining room that was usually only opened for the dinner rush. It was quiet, empty, and a little dark since the lights were still turned down.

Erica and the hostess walked through the “Do Not Enter, Employees Only” door on the side of the dining room from the dry storage area. They were cautious, but smiling. We all knew something great was about to happen, but we had no idea what.

This man unrolled about three feet of paper from his roll, laid it flat on the ground. I moved some chairs out of his way so he would have more room. He stood up, looked at the three of us, and asked if someone had something to write with. I handed him the two Sharpies I had in my shirt pocket. Erica offered the pencil from her hair. He passed on the pencil, but took the Sharpies with appreciation. I hadn’t had a moment to look at his application since we walked over, so I took this opportunity to glance down at it. I don’t remember his name. I don’t remember his date of birth, his previous employer, I don’t even remember if he filled it out completely, all I remember is that while my eyes were looking down at the paper in my hand, Erica pushed her whole body into mine with such force I was inclined to say, “Ouch,” then I looked up at the man. He had suddenly taken his shoes off, stuck the Sharpies in between his toes, and started to work on the paper.

Twenty minutes later, as my best friend Erica (the General Manager of the restaurant) and I looked at caricatures of ourselves on this three foot wide piece of paper, drawn by this man’s feet (and my Sharpies) we didn’t know what to say. We wanted to ask when he could start work. We wanted to ask him to pick up his paper and leave. We were shocked and awed and I offered him a Sweet Tea. He accepted. Thirty minutes later we really just wanted him to pick up his paper and leave. Well, technically we wanted to keep the paper, it was a portrait of us after all, and have him put his shoes back on and leave. But it seemed like he was there for the long haul. He was asking about a burger.

Turns out the man had no experience in the restaurant business. He had no experience as a cook. He had a “slight” drug problem, that he was working on, and while he technically didn’t have an address, he was living in a tent by the lake, he planned on getting one soon enough. He had was a artist, which was plain to see. He was in Branson to be “discovered.” He wanted to be on America’s Got Talent. He wanted to be a Hollywood star, he wanted to know if we could foot him the money for a burger. Foot. Haha. We could not. We did not. He put his shoes back on. Called us assholes, I believe, grabbed his roll of paper, and walked out the front door. Erica shook her head, told me to bleach those Sharpies and went back to the office. This was not her first rodeo. But I was shook.

It would take a couple more years of meeting people like this, seeing people live like this, one job application to another. One choice of drug for another, before the plight of the human condition would start to sting my heart. A couple more interviews with people who said they were “working on getting a place to live,” a couple more transients who were addicted to meth, or crack, or just looking to steal from the bar. I always had a knack for picking the “good” people. I was trusted for my innate ability to read someone’s face, their actions. But the whole experience took a toll on me. Sure there were days where I saw a man draw my picture with his feet and I found it amusing, then frantic, then sad. But then there were really bad days. Days where a single mom, addicted to ice, would walk in with an application and her two-year-old daughter on her hip. And I desperately wanted to give her a chance, but there are just some things you can’t do. So you feed them. You notify child services. You go sit in you car and scream at the top of your lungs for a little while. Whatever it takes to make it all better.

I had a friend say to me one time, “Well you work in the restaurant business, you aren’t exactly working with the highest class of people.” I nodded, and moved on. I knew what he meant, but I didn’t have the energy to fight. To correct him. To explain to him that sometimes, in this midst of the shit, of the counting of burger buns, and of the standing for hours on your feet. In the midst of having ketchup spilled all over your white shirt, or having a man scream at you because there isn’t enough spinach in his spinach and artichoke dip, sometimes those “low-class” people teach you what it means to be human. You learn, then you grow. Or you don’t. Either way, we are all still there.

Miss you, Erica. And the fun that was scattered throughout.

M.

Life Carries On

I’m wide awake at 5:00 am on a Saturday, staring at the crack in the curtain as moonlight, streetlight, and a small sliver of day stream in. I’m awake because I heard footsteps in the hallway. Our house is old. Creaky. Drafty, sometimes. The squeaks were from Jerimiah, who heard our puppy vomiting in the hallway and went to her rescue. He cleaned up the vomit, soothed her jittery nerves, and now they are both asleep again next to me. Why she vomited I can’t be sure. She had her last round of puppy shots. She maybe ate her dinner too fast. She maybe ate another random stick in the yard. Puppies vomit. Life carries on.

I can’t get back to sleep tonight. Today. This morning. I’m thinking about that time, 1998, maybe ‘99, when I was standing in line at the cell phone store. Remember the cell phone store? Not Verizon, or Best Buy. This was a smaller store, where you could buy prepaid flip phones, or pay your AT&T bill, still buy a pager? That store. They were usually in a failing mall, or shopping strip, next to an anchor store like JC Penny or Radio Shack. They had names like Clear Choice Cellular or Cellular One. You had a Motorola Star-tac, or maybe a Nokia with a small yellowed screen. You played a game with a long snake that would maze around in different directions, eating food, while it grew, and grew, and grew. The game was dumb. It was dumb and it was addictive and did it have a name? Maybe it was just called Snake. Just, Snake.

I’m thinking about this time I was standing inside this store and I was waiting, and waiting, and waiting to pay my cell phone bill. It was hot outside, I was in flip flops, it was hot inside the crowded, little store, across from ACE Hardware, next to the movie theater and the arcade that folded a couple years later. I was still in high school. Still learning how the world worked. I had a wad of cash in my hand. Maybe $70. Cell phone bills were expensive back then. But I had a job. I worked the “10 Items or Less” register at Food-4-Less. On the lucky days.

There were a couple women working two different counters. It was all very hectic in there. People were forming a line to pay their bills, people were forming a different line to purchase a phone, a process back then as complicated as buying a car. Long, arduous, taxing. There was another line to look at cases, another to pay their landline bill, buy phone cards to call their families in countries I’d never heard of, let alone visited. Not then. Not that day.

The line was moving. The woman in front of me was motioned to a desk. I was up next. I nervously moved my toes up and down in my flip flops. Someone was waiting in an idling car outside for me. My mom, or my sister, or my best friend. I was keenly aware that I was keeping someone from getting somewhere they needed to be. I was hot. I was sweating in my Walmart flip flops, I was next to be called.

The chime on the door jingled, and the line turned to look. A young man walked in, looked at the line exasperated, and walked inside the store. The line looked back toward the women at the desks. One of them tiredly said, “Come on, whoever’s next.” I started toward her when the man that had just walked in raced past me and got to her desk before I did. I stopped dead in my tracks. I looked around in disbelief. I looked back at the line behind me. They looked at me with searing eyes. Why did I let him cut in line? Why didn’t I say something? What could I have done? Anger. Pity. I stepped back to my spot in line and sank into myself a bit. He finished up his business, then turned to leave. He smiled at us as he walked by. Smirked really. He was no dummy. He wouldn’t wait in line. The woman at the counter motioned me over.

I sank into myself a bit that day and I never fully came back up. I don’t know why. And I don’t know how. I just did. And sometimes when I can’t sleep, when it’s 5:00 am on a Saturday, and my puppy has vomited, and the light from the moon and the sun streams into the cracks of my window I think about that day. About that man. About what nearly-40 Missy would like to say to him. To the line. To the women at the counters. To the little, dumb Missy who sank into herself. And I just can’t sleep.

Hope you’re sleeping peacefully this morning.

M.

Racism in The South

I was born and raised in Kansas. But not the kind of Kansas you’re thinking of. I wasn’t Dorothy, living on a pig farm with my aunt and uncle. I didn’t know any farm hands, I didn’t run to the cellar when the twisters came (we ran to an interior closet, because we could never afford a house with a basement), and I didn’t have any ruby red shoes. Rather I grew up in Leavenworth, a small albeit diverse* town, in the statistical Kansas City-metro area. I was born in one of the two hospitals in town. I attended Leavenworth public schools (mostly Title One schools), and I graduated from Leavenworth High School with a class of about 1200 kids. My best friends in first grade were two little white girls, two little Black girls, and a boy from Pakistan whose dad was an officer in the Indian Army, and was stationed at Fort Leavenworth that year for Combined Army and Services Staff School or CAS-Cubed. So no, it wasn’t Oz or anything like that.

When I was 21, Jerimiah and I moved to Southern Missouri to live at the resort his parents bought on Table Rock Lake. Like really, really Southern Missouri. We lived about four miles from the Arkansas line, and had many run-ins with what I’ve come to know as “Hill People.” We spent five years on Table Rock Lake, where I couldn’t tell you that I ever saw a person of any skin tone other than white (other than our friends we worked with in Branson). We moved into Branson for the first five years of Jackson’s life, where at least it was a little more diverse. Still, we knew it wasn’t the place we wanted to raise our son. Southern Missouri is not reflective of real life, and we never wanted our son to stay there, so we figured we best move somewhere with a little more diversity.

We ended up in Denver, North Carolina because my brother-in-law said it was nice. And it was, but it was more of the same. White. Middle-class. Lake. Boats. Second homes. Sub-divisions. We lived there for nearly four years before we moved to Charlotte and actually lived the sort of life we wanted for our son. He finally had a diverse set of friends, he was in a Charter School during that time, but it was racially, economically, and academically diverse. We liked our little Charlotte neighborhood, and we were happy. Then we got the news we needed to move again. This time to Atlanta.

We’ve been in the Atlanta-metro area for a year now. We are in a small, diverse town on the edge of the Perimeter, which is the highway that runs around the city. We are twenty minutes from downtown. We can catch a bus, ride the MARTA, or Uber to one of the busiest airports in the world with great ease. We have everything we need here, and we are happy. But there is one little thing: Racists. And I’m not talking about the men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery. That is a different kind of racism, and it is my opinion that the man who pulled the trigger should die. The others should serve life. But I am not the judge, nor am I the jury. (Don’t worry I’m not gonna pull some “Jesus is Lord” shit here, I’m saying I am not actually in charge and my opinion doesn’t matter, but I hope the GBI does right by Ahmaud.) The kind of racism I’m talking about here is the kind of racism you find up the road in a town like Cumming, Georgia. It’s covert, not overt.

Cumming has a population of less than 10,000 and no, they are not all racists. I’m sure there are some fine people in Cumming, Ga I don’t know them. I don’t know anyone there because I have never been there, because I refuse to go there because the things I know about the city are not good. I’ve heard about “Sunshine Laws” in Cumming. You might have heard of Cumming from a story that Oprah did on the town in 1987. It’s known for it’s racism around these parts, and even if it is on Lake Lanier I’m just not interested in knowing “that part of Georgia.” The problem is Cumming isn’t a stand-alone, small Georgian town full of racism and unchecked bias. Cumming seems to me, in the year I have spent traveling through the state, to be normal. And it isn’t just Georgia.

We spent six weeks last year in Louisiana. We drove down there on three separate occasions and stayed for two weeks at a time. We drove through places like Birmingham and Biloxi, sure. But we also drove through towns like Newnan, and Opelika, and Chickasaw, and D’Iberville, and Thibodaux and I promise they are all more of the same. Covert, overt, unchecked aggressions and bias, and everything in between. Here read this blog post I wrote about Baton Rouge, or this one, or this one. I tried to share what I was seeing and hearing. The rampant racism that sits just under the surface and is ALWAYS present there is present all over the South. It is present in every, single state in The South, and I’m not saying it isn’t in every state in our country, it’s just so much more pronounced here, that it is hard to look away from.

It is present in my county, DeKalb county, where statistically speaking we are minorities. The Black people in DeKalb County make a lot of money. A lot of it. We are the second richest county in the country with a predominantly Black population. But guess what is here, covert and overt racism, unchecked aggression, and bias. Cause it doesn’t matter if you have money or not. It doesn’t matter if you are educated. It doesn’t matter if you are the kindest person ever. It doesn’t matter if you are small business owner, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company in Atlanta, there are people who will hate you if you are Black and there is nothing you can do about it. And some people truly don’t know this. Some privileged white people really think racism is under control here, and they are walking around trying to save face with the rest of the country, but friends there is no face to save.

As I said, I’ve lived in some different places. Some backwards sorta places, where people chase their lost donkeys in the middle of the night, then smoke meth all day, and still the racism here, in Georgia, in The South, is the worst I have seen in any place I have ever lived. And it is sad. And scary. And unfortunately what happened to Ahmaud is not unique down here, and we all know that. And I think everyone needs to know that. We need to know it, discuss it, and deal with it.

Stay safe, y’all.

M.

*I’m not doing that thing white people do when they say “diverse” and just mean “more Black people” I mean truly diverse when I use the word. Ethnically, culturally, spiritually, educationally, and economically, and yes, varying races represented in the community. That’s the ideal place for us, and one similar to where I grew up.

Privilege

In a lot of the conversations I’m having with others these days, the word privilege seems to surface. Whether we’re discussing the plight of people all over the world, or in our own backyards. Whether we are discussing the global pandemic, or gun violence, or mental health, someone will mention privilege and the conversation will inevitably blur into a new one about how we can help, how the privileged classes can impact the lives of others, whether or not we should ever feel bad for ourselves.

My friends usually say something like, “I feel guilty because…” then insert the reason they feel guilty right now. Maybe they have great health insurance. Or maybe they are still working full-time, with full-time pay, just from the safety of their home. Or maybe they have healthy children, or partners they love to spend time with. The point is this here world is made up of a lot of different people, and some of us, just by being born who we are, or where we are, live a life of privilege.

Now would I consider the life I lived as a child a life of privilege. Let’s recap: I grew up in poverty, the last child of a single mom of four, we were welfare recipients, Section 8 people, I was a free lunch kid. I watched my mom struggle to make ends meet every month, play the whole Which-Bill-Is-Skipped-This-Month Game. We didn’t have the best healthcare, etc. etc. So did I live a privileged life? Yep, I did. Because while we didn’t have money, and I missed out on some things growing up, I learned a million life lessons. I’m also, as it happens, a white person, born in America. So even though my childhood was rough, even though I had family members in prison, and several addicted to alcohol, or drugs, or gambling, or all three, I still led and continue to lead a life of privilege.

One of my professors once told me that she hasn’t figured out a way to write about guilt. It’s a tricky subject, a tough emotion. And I suspect as a member of a privileged class she doesn’t want to upset anyone. And honestly, since she told me that I’ve been trying and trying to figure it out too. But have come up short every time. Maybe it’s a dead end. Probably it is, but just talking about it in a space like this might be good enough. Because here’s the thing: Some of us do recognize that we live a life of privilege, and we do all we can to try to help others. To be compassionate, to lend a hand, or an ear. To make donations. To reach back and lift others up.

But it may, at times, seem like we are ungrateful. For example, I’ve stopped myself a thousand times in the last two months from complaining about one thing or another because honestly, it just isn’t right for me to be complaining right now, when there’s so much uncertainly in this world. But the truth is, I have had hard times. I still continue to, even with my privileges, and like all people it feels nice to discuss them sometimes, lest I invalidate my feelings. If I wouldn’t want to invalidate the feelings and emotions of a compete stranger who lives 3,000 miles from me (I’m just wired that way, it makes me sad to think I have unknowingly hurt someone), so why am I okay with invalidating my own struggles and feelings?

Yep. I can see now how this is a messy subject. Can you? I hope you can. And I hope maybe you’ll think more on it. If you come up with anything let me know. I’m drowning a bit here.

Stay safe and sane, y’all.

M.

Involuntary Autobiographical Memory #9

We’ve talked before about Involuntary Autobiographical Memories (IAMs). I’ve told you about how these random memories surface in my mind when I’m doing something that doesn’t require my mind in any way. Then, if I don’t talk about them, or write about them, they keep recurring for a few days. It’s bizarre, and definitely a mental health question, but not all that uncommon. Though I suspect some of us are more susceptible to it, I often wonder if you have to let the memories in. Like does it happen to me more because I tend to sit in a quiet room, with Adele playing in the background, stare out the window, and just think? Or is this because I once invited the memories in and now they just flood me all the time? Does it happen to all of us and some of us just “shoo” the memories away? Sometimes the memories are bad, but mostly they are odd, with characters from my life that I would like to forget, but just seem to hang on. Okay, having said all that, today while I was switching the laundry I randomly remembered our old neighbor Frank.

When I was pregnant with Jackson, Jerimiah and I moved to Branson, Missouri. We were living on Table Rock Lake, which is about 30 minutes from Branson proper, but we were both working in Branson, and we were both going to school in Springfield (Missouri State–Go Bears!) so it made sense to not only move to “town” as it were, because it was close to our jobs, close to the only hospital in a 40-mile radius, and closer to school. Jerimiah’s parents wanted us to buy a house, but truth be told we knew we weren’t made for a life in Branson. It was a stopping point for us, so we rented an adorable little bungalow in a historic part of Downtown, a couple blocks from “The Strip” and walking distance to all our favorite restaurants, bars (not that that mattered anymore), and the aforementioned hospital. I was six months pregnant when we moved in, and the house was so small that when we passed in the hallway my belly pushed Jerimiah out of the way. It was wonderful, and adorable, and super cute. The perfect little place.

The neighborhood was older, well established, and going through a revitalization of sorts. The woman we rented from had bought the bungalow, stripped it to the studs, and renovated it. It was charming, all the way down to it’s original hardwood and super-pimp kitchen. The same was happening to a couple other houses on the street, and some houses were in disrepair, waiting to be snatched up and reno’d (this was at the peak of HGTV in our house and a couple times we thought about snatching up one of those $40,000 houses and doing the same thing, but I always talked us out of it. Remember, no forever homes quit yet.)

Across the street we had a small family, next door was Russ and his odd wife, who would sometimes ride with her head down in the car like she was a wanted person, and diagonally from us was Virgil. Virgil was a 92-year-old man living in the house he built in his 40s. It was a lovely house, and secretly, if I were to buy a house on that street, it would be Virgil’s. We took Jackson over for Halloween only weeks after he was born and Virgil invited us in. He was bent, with a cane and suspenders that had to have been from the 70s, and the biggest, brightest smile. He made us sit on his 1980-something sofa, and eat mints from his candy dish. He wouldn’t hold Jackson, but stood next to me and made faces at him and smiled. He recounted his own children, now gone, and all his grandkids and great-grandkids. We adored Virgil, and from then on always looked out for him, walked Jackson over to say hi, and talk about what was happening in the hood. He was the neighborhood’s official “Nice old man.”

Then one day, while Jackson crawled around Virgil’s deck (which was painted blue to match his house and had blue indoor/outdoor carpet on top of the wood) Virgil and I stood and talked to the mailman. It was this day that Virgil dropped the bomb. His son was coming from Washington to get him. His house was officially sold. Things were changing and although he was nervous, he was also excited to be with his kids and grandkids again. Virgil had been widowed in the 1990s and lived alone in that house since. I was sad for him, but happy at the same time. I inquired about his house and he said his son had already sold it to a friend’s dad. It was all very quick, and it hadn’t even hit the market. I smiled and nodded, I figured another Virgil would be moving in and I was good with that. Later that week we said our goodbyes to Virgil, as his son pulled up with a small U-haul. Seems he left most of his furniture to the new owner. And that was that. No more Virgil. And for a few weeks, no movement at the little blue house on the corner.

It was a Sunday morning. I remember because Jerimiah and I were both at home. It was just after I had quit my job to stay home with Jackson full-time, so we finally had our weekends back, though sometimes Jerimiah would pick up a bartending shift on Saturday to make ends meet. But we were all in bed together, a cranky, teething Jackson between us, Jerimiah was snoring loudly, and I was preoccupied by an unusual noise outside. I slowly got up as to not wake anyone, and walked over to the large windows in our incredibly small bedroom, and peeked out. I was met with a sight. An old, large camper was parked between our house and the empty one next door that was being renovated. There was an alley that separated our houses, and the camper was blocking the alley. I was just sitting there, idling. It’s loud muffler roaring, and something was banging. The door to the camper was open, but I couldn’t see anyone. There was an extension cord coming from the inside, and it was running alongside the camper, then out of my view. I kept looking down the alley toward Mary’s house, the family whose backyard backed up to ours. They used the alley quite a bit, and I wondered if this camper somehow belonged to them.

Jerimiah woke up and asked what was happening and I explained the situation. A camper? An extension cord? He had questions. He crept out of bed to join me at the windows and we watched, for what was so long that at one point he went to the bathroom and started the coffee, and came back. At some point Jackson woke up, and we all went into the living room to get a better view. Bentley our overweight chocolate lab was asleep in the dark living room. When we opened the blinds Bentley lost her shit, wanted to know what the hell that camper was doing, wanted us to take her outside. I obliged, because this camper had piqued my curiosity. Jerimiah and Jackson had already moved on to breakfast, but I was hooked. I leashed up Bentley, threw some flip-flops on, and we headed out the front door. Be careful, Jerimiah told me, holding a bouncing Jackson and pulling pancake mix out. I nodded.

Outside Bentley calmed down, when there wasn’t an apparent human with the camper. She sniffed around the edge of our yard. I was too nervous to walk into the alley. Then suddenly a man jumped out of the camper and yelled something toward us. Bentley flipped out, and I pulled her closer to me, which was always harder than it seemed since she was usually using 110 pounds. He started toward us. Bentley was hackled up, and at this point Jerimiah had noticed. He put Jackson in his walker in the living room and walked out onto the porch.

The man was stumbling, obviously drunk, and very loud. Maybe to talk over the camper’s noises, but Bentley did not like him, and as he walked toward us I was a little scared too. He stopped short of our yard, Bentley barking and nipping toward him. “Is that a damn bear?!” He yelled, pointing at Bentley. Rude, we both thought. I mean, she was a sturdy girl, but a bear? Come on, man. I managed a smile, Jerimiah asked if the man needed anything.

Nope, he just wanted to introduce himself. He was Frank, our new neighbor. He pointed toward Virgil’s house. I was agitated at this point, and asked why his camper was here (motioning toward the alleyway), then he started saying something about this being America and he could park his RV whenever he pleased. That was just the beginning.

It didn’t take long to see that Frank was suffering from mental illness. I tried to be as nice as I could, but when I finally broke down and called the police on him he lost it. One day Jackson and I came home from the park. We had walked, him in his stroller, and I turned the corner to head up our street and immediately noticed that same extension cord from the RV. But this time it was coming from the screen door of Frank’s house. It crossed the street and was plugged into an outdoor outlet at Russ’ house, our neighbor. I was furious. At this point we had several run-ins with Frank, including him day drinking and walking up and down the street screaming about the military and President Obama (he was a conspiracy theorist and one heck of a racist). So I called the police.

It was a nice day and my windows were open so I heard the entire incident. They came over, asked him why the extension cord appeared to be plugged into the neighbor’s house, and explained at length why this was dangerous and also illegal. He spat at them, cursed them, and was very close to being arrested, when he finally unplugged the cord and went inside. The police left. All night he stood on his porch and yelled at our house. I was at my wits end.

We only lived at that house for a few more months, it was all too much. I called the police on him a couple more times, and once he did get arrested. The day we moved he had hoisted a very large sign in his front yard to announce his bid for Mayor. I just shook my head. He seemed to be the epitome of a man let down by the system. It turns out Frank was a Veteran, like Russ had been, but he suffered from PTSD and a myriad of other health problems, and was unable to get the care he needed at the VA. It was sad, and scary, and I wish there had been a better way for me to have handled the situation back then. But I was young and green, and this was my first go round with someone like Frank.

The truth of the matter is, we’ve had other odd neighbors. Other people who have made us scratch our head, call the police, and even try to befriend to just understand them more. But Frank was beyond my help. And to this day I think of him. Wonder if he’s okay. And wish him comfort.

I think of Virgil too. And that little blue house on the corner. I think of the early days. I cherish a lot of memories from that house, those streets, but Frank. Ah, sometimes there are things we’d like to forget, but just can’t. I guess there’s a reason.

Wishing you rest today, Frank. Wherever you are.

M.