Junebug versus Hurricane

Missy’s Big Chance

Desperate Living

Taylor Black


[Listeners’ Guide: These here blue links are songs that should be played behind your reading of the story.  The words don’t work otherwise, this shit is choreographed!  Click where it says click and you’ll have a nice time.  xo, Jbg]

Restraining Order Blues

Saturday nights are Missy Barker’s favorite. Even though she had already had herself three other Saturday nights in the past week, the stars seemed aligned tonight.  It was Saturday night after all.

“Memaw!  Can I have $20?  I’ll get it back to you once my man Blake pays me back next week.”

Her grandmother sighed, tried to look away from her reflection in the TV screen, awoke a bit, collected herself and then lit a cigarette—Tareytons 100s if you are the kind of person who likes banal information like that—and, after taking a long, gratuitous drag put down her lighter on the coffee stand, flipped on the lamp next to her Lazyboy and answered her dear Missy’s request:

“What the hell are you going to do with $20?  Don’t you think for a minute you can just buy a bunch of beer and invite half of the ingrates of Kernersville over here tonight—it’s not gonna happen, like hell you will.”

“Memaw!”—a name Missy, her brothers and now even her own parents used in place of the one her parents gave her, the one she was recognized by when hope still seemed salvageable,  before people started calling her ma’am and waiting for her to shuffle off to the forevereverafter.  In fact, Dora [I know what you’re thinking: “Dora?  You mean like Dora the Explorer?” No, Doe-ra, as in Dooooooe-rrrrra], her name before Memaw, suited her. After all, a name like “Memaw” that is affectionate; it’s meant for someone who washes clothes all day long, cooks pots and pots of pinto beans and wakes every morning just to tell you how much you mean to her.  But Dora, Dora Dora: the woman’s about as folksy as as a truckstop and as feminine as one of the eighteen wheelers huddled together in the parking lot outside, waiting for their drivers to put down the 17-year old call boys they’re ravishing and the “Surf and Turf” dinner specials they’re eating.”—“shut the hell up and tell me where your money is.  You know I’m good for it.  Besides, I wouldn’t be asking you if I hadn’t gotten my money stolen at The Odyssey the other night.”

Poor, petulant Missy.

With the mind of a child and common sense of an inbred Rottweiler, she really believes that she’s important enough to get robbed.

In fact, no one stole money from her; hell, everyone in there is basically fluid bonded, since it was the only homosexual establishment within a 30 mile radius.  Everyone knows your name at The Odyssey, but only out of habit.  The same folks are always doing and saying the same things there every night, wasting what’s left of their paychecks on drinks composed mostly of knockoff mixers and sprinkled with watered down liquors.  Like dogs who circle and circle their vomit before finally giving in and eating in, the denizens of Winston-Salem’s hottest, and only, gay club made their eternal rounds each and every night inside its black-lit halls.

“Go on and get a twenty from my room.  I got a pile of money on top of my chest of drawers, but don’t think for a second I don’t know how much is there, don’t even do it Melissa Jean.  You take your $20 and get your lily white ass on out of this house so I can get some peace and quiet: your brother was nice enough to show me how to tape all my stories that I miss during the day [napping, going to the pawn shop to shoot the shit with her friend Peggy who’s been working there since her husband’s disability checks started going to his growing collection of Sudafed and jet fuel that he was keeping out back in his toolshed, and stopping in at the liquor store to buy 6 airplane bottles of Smirnoff at a time—anything more would be unladylike…).”

Missy opened the door to Dora’s cell and thought to herself that the smell of mildew was finally beginning to overpower the smell of 40 years of cigarette smoke that had before that time overpowered the entire abode.  Memaw’s sentence on earth was certainly coming to a close sooner rather than later.  There was something in the air that made it certain.

As she slide a $20 into the coin-pocket of her new [knockoff, bought from Rose’s, tossed aside not from last season’s collection, but from 1998’s collection…brought down to North Carolina just for her to shove herself into] True Religion’s she paused. . .and then told herself that dangerous phrase that she said so much that it almost became a tic, the one that made her feel butch but really just admitted how little she had to lose:

“Fuck it.”

Missy then checked herself out in the mirror, liked what she saw—save the unsightly bumps on her chest that even her sports-bra and extra-large men’s dress shirt from couldn’t do away with—grabbed an unsolicited $10 bill and her old Memaw’s discarded wedding ring and she was ready to go.

Tonight was going to be a good night, or at least that’s what Missy wrote in her text message blast to all of her friends as she sauntered out of her Memaw’s room and her house too.

Before Missy got into her car—it’s a teal-green ’95 Acura, but you knew that already—she remembered she needed to fix her hair.  In the same way that Aileen Wuornos used to do—hands behind your back (in handcuffs if you’re Miss Wuornos), you keel over until your face is at crotch-level then bam, you throw yourself, your head and all of your hair back up to standing position—and she was ready to go.

I Want To Come Over

Walking into The Odyssey, Missy felt ashamed that she didn’t have anyone by her side.  All of the other butches entered the venue in style—walking like cowboys in too-tight jeans and blister-bound boots, grabbing their femmes by the neck the way a hunter holds a dead jackrabbit when he’s asked to pose for a picture.

Spitting tobacco and looking over their shoulders, the butches walk in a deliberate, yet paranoid way–as if they were walking through a prison yard.  The femmes can’t quite get the hang of sauntering in the high heels; their strides are long and cautious,  like that parking lot was a damn cotton field.

“Fuck that shit,” Missy mumbled to herself… and then text-messaged her friends: “I’m tired of this fucking town anyway.”

But, in the back of Missy’s mind she knew that things would be alright.  After all, she had thirty of her grandma’s dollars, an antique Woolworth’s wedding ring and her good looks.  Maybe she’d find a girl tipsy, or at least alone enough to take home to Memaw’s place.

With her $2 cover paid, phone set to vibrate and hair-fixing ritual repeated, Missy finally walked

Truth is, and don’t tell her I said this, but Missy didn’t even lose the money the other night, she spent it on alcohol—always gambling her nights away, looking for someone to recognize her for something she knew she wasn’t, but hoped that some of Memaw’s cash might compensate for.  Tonight, sadly, would be another one of those occasions.   Missy was gonna go for broke tonight.

Once she heard the intro guitar riffs to one of favorite Melissa Etheridge songs—the one they played almost every night, and strangely always at 11:30—she knew things were just about to be right.

Checking in with herself by glaring at her image reflected back from a mirror behind the bar that read “Colt 45: If the 4 don’t get ya the 5 will,” Missy noticed a real pretty girl holding court among a gaggle of sensibly dressed lesbians who all managed to get their genders wrong and come in looking a damn mess [think: stonewashed jeans w/ elastic that looks like it’s about to give up hope and tight striped rugby shirts; not butch, mind you, sloppy].

Telling herself that this was her big change, Missy pushed away her anxieties and swallowed what was left of her drink [if it makes it more enjoyable for you, it was a double-shot of Goldschläger—actually bootleg Sambuca, but who can tell the difference—that Missy mixed with the 20 ounces of Mountain Dew she brought in with her that evening] and sauntered over to their party.

Rather than introduce herself or show any signs of good social grace, Missy went in for the kill: “What are y’all drinkin’?”

In her mind she was being confident and manly, but unfortunately she only seemed lonely and dogged.

Totally ignoring any of this, Missy felt good as she stood waiting for her audience to recognize her chivalry.  Hands in her back pockets and eyes fixed on her new girl with the intensity of a pin-light, Missy relaxed a bit and grinned a kind of Howdy-Doody grin, the one she reserved for moments of real conquest. . .moments, as she imagined, just like this.

“Kamikaze’s work,” The Femme said, or, rather, shouted into Missy’s ear, which was now ringing from the shock of this girl speaking to her as if they were at Walnut Creek Amphitheater seeing (what’s left of) Lynyrd Skynyrd, and not standing in a gay bar that was clearing out, save for our Missy, this femme and her friends and two drunk faggots sleeping with their heads on the bar in a pool of Natural Light and their own filth.

Missy wiped The Femme’s JC Penny lipstick—color: blush if you’re west of Winston-Salem; bashful if you’re in the rest of the state—from her attached-earlobe and reached into her pocket, and then tried to ordered a round of shots of this thing she could neither remember the name of nor even begin to pronounce.

In her own softball player kind of femininity, The Femme hurled her ample frame in the direction of the bartender so that she might save the transaction (as well as the ever-sinking level of alcohol floating around in her bloodstream):

“She said Ka-mi-kaze,” drawing the word out for emphasis as if the bar tender was slow; as if it were an actual drink or an actual word.

Brushing off the horrible way the word “She” sounded coming out of that girl’s mouth in reference to her-self, Missy moved on.  “Fuck it,” she thought, as she witnessed herself asking The Femme for a dance.

Swallowing her kamikaze as desperately as she could—head and body bent back: searching, waiting for one more drop of liquor before it’s over—The Femme figured she’d oblige the poor thing at least until the song was over.  She loved Melissa Etheridge too.

As the two began to dance, Missy looked over at her partner’s friends and thought how jealous they must be that she was holding the woman they all wanted to badly, that she was man enough to scoop her up and take her away.  In reality, however, Missy’s “jealous” triangulators weren’t jealous at all—instead, having finished their shots too, they began rifling around looking for their coats, allthewhile making fun of Missy to each other, recycling all the same insults and lines that they had heard directed at themselves when they were back in high school.

The song’s about to end; Missy knew she had to do something.

The $10 bill she absconded from her Memaw’s dresser fell carelessly to the ground as Missy shoved her tiny white fingers into her jeans-pocket and pulled the ring.  Adopting what she imagined would come off as a suave glare, Missy looked deep into her new love’s eye-sockets, then grabbed her chubby hand and tried to push the ring down its middle finger.

The Femme giggled a bit as the ring fell to the floor and rolled out of sight.

Missy shouted hysterically: “That was my grandmother’s wedding ring!”

Unable to control her horrible self (or her nasty mouth) following a night drinking overly sweet mixers laced with tinted liquors, Missy’s femme laughed again.  So that she would know she was coming, the femme repositioned her body 45 degrees to her right and gave her friends a wink.

Then, face-to-face with her half-a-song Romeo, The Femme gave poor Missy one of her classic sideways glance that she saved for ugly people who bought things for her [she’s one of those girls who slow dances with you only to have a chance to eyeball the rest of the room], pinched her ruddy cheek and said: “You’re cute.”

Cowboy Take Me Away

Dateless, penniless, and now ringless, Missy stood alone on the dance floor as a slow-dance song came on.  With no one and no-thing to salvage from the evening, Missy swayed back and forth by herself until she saw stars, dancing to her siren song of sorts: the song she longs for someone to sing about her, the song no one ever will.

“Time to go home,” Missy thought; “Fuck it,” she text-messaged.

At least there was less than 24 hours to wait until Missy descended upon another Saturday night.


Done Crossed Over – Belated Notes on Holy Days and Dylan’s Conversion
April 6, 2010, 2:14 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

holy holy holy

Elena Glasberg


Done Crossed Over – Belated Notes on Holy Days and Dylan’s Conversion

Passover is my favorite Jewish Holiday.  It’s neither high nor holy.  Rather than on temple and authority, it centers on a meal with family.  One tradition is always to have a non jewish guest at the table, where the food is good and the story better.  Revolt from slavery, exodus, good guys and bad, vengeance, plagues. There’s

the inedible but somehow irresistible matzoh, the 3 questions of the wise son, the dutiful, and the son who doesn’t know to ask, those “fruit” slices in kosher colors and that weird white pithy part, and “chad gadya,” a great kid’s song that begins with the purchase of a goat by a father for “two zuzim” and ends with the following verse, having run through the hierarchies of animal and inanimate, and heaven and earth:

Then came the Holy One, Blesses be He

And smote the angel of death, who slew the slaughterer

Who killed the ox, that drank the water

That extinguished the fire, that burned the stick

That beat the dog, that bit the cat

That ate the goat,

Which my father bought for two zuzim

But Passover has nothing on its major cultural competitor, Easter.  Sure, there’s an egg on the Passover plate to represent spring and all.  And there’s even a scorched animal bone, a lamb shank usually, to remind the feasters of sacrifice.  But damn, the christians have got an actual, gruesome man nailed to a cross.  I feel like the son who doesn’t know to ask.  Or maybe he’s the wiser one, not even wanting to know about that beautiful man dripping blood and sweat and expiring upright for all our sins, whether you wanted him to or not.

Bob Dylan sings no Passover ditties – he was not the dutiful son, either.  He is that Jew who turns the tide, like Jesus, and after him everything is changed.  Other folk singers treated American song (and the descendents of the people who sang them) with a museum keeper’s reverence.  They performed history, not bothering to change the pronouns in love songs to fit heterosexual romance conventions.  As much as I loved Judy Collins and Joan Baez, to them, American song wasn’t living music.  It was political, historical, a secular religiosity for the pre-consumer masses.  At its worst it could be sexless and dull.  Then Dylan electrified the folk festies, even before Newport.  He sang his own lyrics and encouraged people to think for themselves, even as he was being railroaded into being the saviour of the 60s.  Even his traditionals contained pointed messages about consumerism.  His version of “Froggie went a courting” ends, like “chad gadya,” with froggie making the rounds of the animal kingdom, courting nothing but disaster, which comes in the form of a “lily white duck” who eats our poor mr. froggie up!  And in case you didn’t digest the entire self-consuming message, the last line serves it all on one plate for you:

little piece of cornbread layin on a shelf

if you want anymore you can sing it yourself

Dylan, that most musical of writers, certainly does sing it for himself.  Mostly about himself.  Which always made me a little suspicious about his infamous conversion to Christianity.  Or maybe just hopeful.  For even the most deracinated, pork chomping, never entered a shul kind of jew, there’s a dispiriting feel to a jew falling for jesus.  It just feels creepy, maybe a little like lesbians who up and marry men – yes it does happen – in middle age.  You went to all that trouble to be different and despised and then you just give in?  Do you really want to make so many christians so fucking happy?

So Bobbie Zimmerman converted — he turned the other cheek.  But while I can understand feeling betrayed by a Jew who capitulates to conversion’s coercions, I can’t agree with those who say Dylan’s religious music isn’t fantastic.  And it’s righteously religious too.  It’s good music, good Dylan, and though it seems that the acute phase may have ended some time ago (remember “Covenant Woman”?), Dylan’s religious phase has never really ended.  True religion permeates Dylan’s music now.  The god is in the music itself.  His return in Modern Times, Time Out of Mind, and last year’s Together Through Life to historical materials and genres indicates his desire to situate in a vernacular form a god-soaked time, before gospel became soul. When it still had soul.

But while I love religious music of Handel and Bach and Dylan I must confess I don’t read the bible.  I don’t need to.  The music itself is pure religion.  The music of the country – white, gospel, mountain – the music Dylan hears, and Gillian Welch reveals – is essentially religious.  This music is so religious in its roots that it can feel profane.  It knows the desire to turn praise to stomp; it knows the foot of pride.  Is it Dylan singing or the music singing through him?  Is he a vessel in the chorus or taking an ornate solo flight of grace?  No, I don’t read the bible itself.  I’m not a literalist or a strict constructionist.  It matters to me that Dylan converted, that he writes these songs, that he continues to translate King James’s vernacular to this chosen Jew who’s not converting, no way, I wouldn’t give anyone the satisfaction.  My love for Jesus hangs on Dylan’s cross.  It travels with him to the banks of the winding Mississippi, in the plantation fields, and the courtrooms of injustice under god.  Dylan’s piano-based songs – think of “Blind Willie McTell” or “Nettie Moore” — tend to be most clear about the incomplete project of redemption in this fallen land, across this half-forgotten history.  Although they on the surface don’t seem to be gospel songs, they are.  Because they are rooted in the voices of the land that Dylan translates through the language and vernacular of their times to our times.

For all of Dylan’s singing of Him and of the lamb, can you ever really take the jew out of the voice?  Dylan sure don’t sing like a christian angel.  More like a rabbi, a melancholy wise man.  Maybe “Mississippi” can be a walking rabbi blues in its opening couplet:

Every step of the way/ we walk the line

Your days are numbered/ So are mine

Every grain of sand, the comfort of knowing you are counted and accountable, not lost, not a rank stranger.  And yet… though you may walk with Dylan, you always walk alone – two, disunited, under god.  Dylan is like O’Connor’s Misfit, the courtly killer from “A Good Man is Hard to Find” who, in answer to the foolish question, why’d you do it? actually explains – it was Christ, coming to offer salvation that messed up his world.  And instead of singing the gospel of christ, the Misfit went out to right the world, one person at a time, with his own errant revolver.  They all would have been good people “if it had been somebody there to shoot [them ]every minute of [their] lives.”  Short of the Misfit’s misbegotten offer of grace, I guess I’ll get along with listening to Dylan’s (or Handel’s or Bach’s) sung gospel every minute of my life playing in the background, in my head.  Even when I’m not listening, it’s playing me.  Saving me.

But who is this unsatisfying killer rabbi passing through apocalyptic Mississippi?

I got nothing for you

Had nothing before

Don’t even have anything for myself anymore

Sky full of fire

rain pouring down

Nothing you can sell me – I’ll see you around

Dylan is consumed, empty; he is insatiable.  He is converted, and yet the same.  Like the best of the jews, he knows what it was like, even for Jesus.  Before the gospels and the dogma.  He knows how hard it is to keep going and to stand on that shore, always beaten back, receding, attached to ruination:

The emptiness is endless/ cold as the clay

I sometimes wonder how Dylan can sing this line with such relish at the end of the lyric, and with such stamina.

And then only to rhyme, inconsequentially:

You can always come back/ but you can’t come back all the way

Who else would know the troubles He (I?) endure? Dylan was never really gone.  But we all know what a comeback is, and he’s had a career comeback.  But what part of him never resurrected?  I’m no rabbi.  I don’t split hairs; I don’t even know to ask the right questions.  I’m just glad that even the desperate teachings of the followers of the god of love and thunder come out cracked and discomforting from His most converted servant.  As Benjamin Franklin, a smartass son if ever there was, once counseled, and I believe Dylan heard: “Be Humble.  Imitate Jesus.”  Amen.

Sweet Sad Songs (sung by lonely girls)

Taylor Black


lonely girls

lonely girls

Forgive me, for, try as I might, I cannot let the hag thing rest.  It’s like a song that won’t ever get out of your head.

With this entry, I would like to think about/clarify my own romantic inclinations towards ruined femininity and all the sweet silent solitude awaiting me and all the other lonely girls of the world who live their lives at the end of the bar—living a whole life like it was the end of the night, dancing alone and pretending like we’ve got somewhere to go.

Even as I write this entry, I feel guilty, in part, because I feel I’m just repeating exactly what I said about myself last week—that I longed for the hag’s life; that I have always imagined myself waiting my life out alone at the end of some bar, always there at closing time cloaked in false hope and averting glares behind false eyelashes.

lonely girls

lonely girls

But, sometimes there’s nothing to do but repeat yourself.  More staggering than whatever hesitations I have about blogging and, to put it kindly, doing critical analysis about myself the music I listen to, is the image that’s glaring back at me off the computer screen: the image of a lonely girl nursing a gin and tonic that she wishes she could weep into (for dramatic and literary effect, of course) who doesn’t even know how to cry, who can’t even think of something worth getting that upset about.

heavy blankets

While it might be easy to assume that my attraction to failed femininity might have something to do with being a white, gay male, that stock narrative doesn’t work for me…try as I might.  You see, my taste tends less toward what you are imagining in your stock narrative of gay masculinity than it is actually, legitimately and tragically aligned not with icons of tragic femininity—Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Whitney Houston, Hillary Clinton—than it is with the actual nameless ruined and destitute women that are, as I speak, sitting by themselves, waiting for something good to happen and singing all the sweet, sad songs that lonely girls do sing.  You see, believe it or not, there’s not much irony in what I’ve been trying to convey lately.  Forlorn and busted are not qualities that I appreciate, they’re what I am, what I will become.

So, if you’ll allow me one last siren song to close out this hag’s trilogy I promise to be less personal and less overbearing in entries to come.  But, with my apologies and defenses out of the way, I’d like to riff off of this song that wrote me long before I tried to comprehend it, that sings the song not only of my life but also of the whole constellation of down and out ladies who are joined with and adhered to me.  Their lives rhyme with mine, and together we make up one great big song that never ever ends.

heavy blankets

heavy blankets cover lonely girls

Like the song that I’m burying these thoughts in, the story my face tells and the song that I’ve got to sing about myself doesn’t really go anywhere, even though it probably ought to.  Lucinda’s “Lonely Girls” is the first song on Essence, the album immediately following her hugely successful, career-changing Car Wheels on a Gravel Road—a foundational record in the annals of what’s referred to as alt-country, but also simply a whole collection of brilliant narrative-driven songs.

“Lonely Girls,” as you can see, doesn’t have a story to tell…at least that’s not what it’s content is focused on doing…the song really doesn’t even have much content to it in the first place.  Like the lonely, ruined women I have been conjuring up the past few weeks as I have attempted to characterize my own romantic image of myself, this song stands alone.  There are no metaphors in the song you see before you either, not really even what we think of as artistic expression.

The things that make and cover over lovely girls are not things at all…not descriptions or literary devices but productions, connections, events, stains and always-echoing echoes.  You sing the song long enough that you become it.

Rocking back and forth both melodically and rhythmically and not moving beyond the kinds of lyrical descriptions and musical associations normally destined for the first verse of a song, “Lonely Girls” doesn’t go anywhere.  However, because of the way the song moves and repeats itself it becomes more like an echo even before you’re a minute in—and when it’s over it’s hard to know how long you’ve been listening; you ask yourself if, perhaps, the song has accidentally gone on repeat.

So goes the life of a lonely girl: destined to repetition and bound to always be too late.  I should know.

sweet sad songs

sweet sad songs

sweet sad songs sung by lonely girls

This last verse, I’ll admit, has sunk into my bucket of regularly used phrases—and, if you’ll notice, my blogging—without my even knowing I was doing it.  “What a wonderful way to put things, Lucinda,” is the phrase I must have looked over the first minute I uttered the phrase “sweet, sad songs,” assuming it was something I’d come up with myself.  But, to her credit as a songwriter and as an alibi for my “creative” plagiarisms, I’d like point out that this is what function a song should play: it sings the story of your life that knew you before you knew it; it makes you a part of the world it creates—fixing you into its lyrics, its cracks, its seams, itself.

Lonely girls may be coming apart at the seams, busted to the gills, broken down and made fragile by their place in the world, but they’ll always have each other; even if they only know themselves through their own personal, languid, remote locations, they know they’re not the only ones out there waiting for their last-call, partner-dancing all by themselves and picking up the pieces that were fractured before the start.

lonely girls

lonely girls

lonely girls

lonely girls

pretty hairdos

pretty hairdos

pretty hairdos worn by lonely girls

sparkly rhinestones

sparkly rhinesstones

sparkly rhinestones shine on lonely girls

Lonely girls

Lonely girls

Lonely girls

Lonely girls

I oughta know

I oughta know

I oughta know about lonely girls

An hour and a half in and I can’t remember where I began.  The song’s been playing on repeat for twice as long as that.  Filling my glass with one last gin and tonic before bed, I’m getting used to the idea of leaving this piece unbalanced and unfinished…how in the world am I supposed to close a piece up neatly that didn’t really even ever properly begin?

I oughta know.

Lonely girls

Lonely girls

Lonely girls

Lonely girls