rockin' it old school

Welcome to Nashville.

I was in Tennessee visiting an old high school friend who had just finished grad school at Vanderbilt. She thought it would be fun to do the town before she left for Raleigh. Raleigh, NC, is known for their three P's: Pigs, poultry and pickles. She said that they hide these attractions from the main roads, because to be known for the three P's is one thing, but to see them? Well, that might be too much. It's almost like Orange County. There are, in fact, carbs located behind the Orange Curtain. But to see them? No one wants that. Hence the hiding of every grocery store ever built. Behind large shrubs and even larger parking lots. I once met a girl who started crying when telling me the story of her first shopping excursion. It took her two hours to find the grocery store. Using a map.

When you arrive at Nashville's "International" Airport, two things immediately strike you. One being the fact that the Atkins Diet has not made its way down south and the other being that every single person wants to wave at you and say hello. Even at the airport. I mean, the "International" Airport. They are all just so full of smiles and waves that you can't tell if they are being sarcastic or genuine. I had to face the fact that they were, indeed, über friendly. It would take some getting used to.

What would Jesus eat?

It struck me as odd that you could eat a "meat and three" for five dollars. I thought it even more odd that a meal could be referred to as a "meat and three." The term "meat" is not indicative of red meat alone. It might refer to the USDA diet pyramid, which includes fish and poultry. Your choice of meat might consist of catfish, pork chops, steak, chicken or roast beef. All fried, of course. The "three" was usually a vegetable such as macaroni and cheese, turnip greens, pinto beans or creamed corn. In traditional Southern fare, mac and cheese is considered a vegetable. There is a local Nashville paper that lists everything happening in the week to come. Performances, bar happenings, theatre events, gallery showings, etc. It also covers the weightier issues such as "Best Meat and Three". Everything in Nashville wants to be fried. They don't understand why you would want to ruin a good piece of fish with a grill. What purpose would that serve? Cornbread is a staple. I think it's been said that Jesus, himself, ate this way.

We decided to dine at the White Trash Cafe, located in the heart of Nashville. It was apparent that we had arrived well before we saw the sign on the door. There were hanging tires decorated with flowers and lawn art that would provoke the greatest of imaginations. Lawn jockeys might be politically incorrect, but you don't want to argue a moot point. Our waitress was very hateful. Hateful and short tempered. After she threw two menus on the table and walked away, my friend informed me that our waitress was not acting nor was this Ed Debevic's. She really was truly that mean. I have a soft spot in my little west coast heart for her. She is a rebel. Life will not be easy for such a person who bucks the system that surrounds them.

The birth of goodness.

We drove three hours into Kentucky to visit the Maker's Mark Distillery. Maker's Mark is just about the best bourbon made in the U.S. of A. It was Nikki, Leslie and myself. We took Leslie's caddy, with Nebraska plates, and hit the road. Early. I couldn't believe how early. It's like my high school friend didn't even know me anymore. Sad. But we were off to see some distillering. Sounds fancy. It's in some really small town in Kentucky. A three-cow town with a distillery the size of Iowa. I'm getting ahead of myself. So, we're driving and enjoying the scenery. Listening to CD's. Yelling over the music to talk. It was like college all over again. In Kansas you have to drive everywhere. Why not drive three hours to Wichita when everything else is two hours away anyhow? And it's fun. Country driving. The other fun Midwest/Southern thing is the honking and waving to everyone, as if we all go back decades. Every time we saw a car with Nebraska plates they would honk and wave at us. And if we started the waving they honked, as if to validate our waving. It's all just so damn friendly.

Leslie is a friend of Nikki's, who is my friend from high school, and they just finished their masters in nursing together. I think Leslie might just be the most fun person in Nashville. The only down side to her is that she will tell you stories relating to her career. She has just started working as an FNP (family nurse practitioner). One story involved a woman who had a tampon stuck inside of her for two months. The woman said that it had become very painful for her to engage in sexual intercourse. Well, she said, "screwing," but I'd like to clean it up on her behalf. The pain and the god-awful smell were the factors that prompted her to make the appointment. When Leslie got her in the stirrups and looked inside, her first thought was gangrene of the cervix. That must have been a sight to see. As she kept probing, she realized it was a tampon. A tampon that had seen two cycles. A tampon that had seen sperm. That tampon wasn't using deodorant. Can you even imaging keeping a cotton ball wedged in your mouth for a single day? And this has been there for two months. Holy God. Leslie felt awful for the patient, because she almost threw up and nurses shouldn't do that. I would've been feeling bad for myself, but then it's all about me. I might have run screaming, but Leslie removed it and held her gag reflex. She said that the smell was so bad she immediately placed it in a trash bag and tied it closed. She then put that bag into a big trash bag and tied it closed. She immediately ran it to the disposal. It was just that smelly. I'll take her word for it. Anyway, Leslie is great fun and so is Nikki. I was surrounded by fun. Fun and gynecological stories.

So we get to the distillery and the tour begins. The tour guide was a round girl from Kentucky who couldn't have been older than twenty. She let us know, right off the bat, that she had been giving this tour for five years and she knew everything anyone could ever possibly know about Maker's Mark. She was the end all of FAQ's. We were glad. The distillery is on this amazing piece of property. I don't know much about acreage, but it must have been a gazillion point two acres. Rolling green hills, beautiful trees. It was just plain pretty. So was the drive. It was a very pretty day. As you enter the first building, there are jars of every grain used in the making of their bourbon. They are tested and tested again, to ensure quality and freshness. Anything that doesn't pass their high standards is given to the local farmers. "You might have noticed the fat and lazy cows on your drive in. They got this way very fast, thanks to Maker's Mark." As did the people. Next is the fermenting room. It smells like... hmm. Fermented ass. She let us know that we should be thanking our lucky stars we didn't come in august, because the heat intensifies the assiness of the fermented smells. "It's so hot, you might could pass out." I turned to Nikki and laughed. "You might could?" which was overheard by the woman standing next to me. She tapped me on the shoulder and said, "SHE MEANS YOU MIGHT COULD FALL DOWN!" I don't know if she thought I was deaf or had just arrived here on a boat, but that was enough to send me into a tailspin of laughter. The helpful woman could not understand why falling down might be so funny, but she just smiled and moved on.

Next you go into the area where they are separating out all of the wheat, corn, etc. Huge vats of the stuff. I suggested that this couldn't possibly be the real room, because I had already seen six tourists stick their fingers into the mash. The tour guide informed us that we could drop a camera or pacifier in there and it would be melted by the cookers and disinfected by the alcohol. It wasn't a comforting thought. There could be a melted pacifier in my bourbon. A clean, melted pacifier. Another interesting fact, besides the secret ingredients, was that all bourbon can be whiskey, but not all whiskey can be bourbon. Our little rolly polly guide was smart! The tour carried on. Through the bottling and labeling area. This is also where they dip the bottles in wax. If you're not familiar with Maker's Mark, you won't know that every bottle is hand dipped for... I don't know the reasoning, but it's pretty. For marketing and logo purposes, I suppose. I guess I should've asked while I was there. So, they dip the top of the bottle after it's been filled and capped, because any other order would be illogical. They wear aprons, goggles and rubber gloves. The wax is really hot (we gathered when she said melted wax, but she needed to clarify) and you will be burned ("BURNED!") if it touches your skin or stays on the gloves you are wearing for too much time. She said that this woman dipped her bottle improperly and got wax all over her hand and arm. "That was her first mistake!" We were dying to know the second. Leslie decided it was waiting six days to call for the morning after pill, because five days is the cut-off. The tour ends in the gift shop. How very savvy. They sell you a bottle that has been filled and capped, but not dipped. They let you dip it yourself. I think this is really just a cost cutting solution, but it was fun. I purchased a bottle of V.I.P. Maker's Mark. They personalize the label for you so that you can feel like the most special person in all of Kentucky. Or Orange County.

Kentucky is for smokers.

On the way back to Nashville we stopped at a Sip and Chew. I noticed that cigarettes were $1.80 each, so I bought two cartons. I was so impressed, and by now so friendly, that I talked to "Big J" at the counter of the Sip and Chew. Big J is just that. Big. He's so big that you don't even question what the "J" stands for. He's big enough to carry off a single letter in the alphabet as a proper name. He saw my ID and asked how much I paid for cigarettes in CA. I told him, which lead to his comment that "some there people will fall for anything." He said it in such a friendly way; I couldn't help but smile as he called me a stupid idiot. He was that nice. He gave me the number of a woman named Pam. "She might could send you cigarettes to Calyforniya. Tell her Big J sent you." I still have the number, but am scared to call. I've already fallen back into my not so friendly mode and I've been home less than twenty-four hours. Besides, I couldn't tell you where I was when we were at the Sip and Chew. Somewhere in Kentucky, but that's all I know. I'll have to hope "Big J" isn't a common name. "Hi. I met a man named Big J somewhere in Kentucky and he told me to call you." ::click:: "Hello?"

The little (pink) bus.

We took a bus tour in Nashville called "Nash Trash." It's run by these two sisters/actresses/comedians/singers/songwriters/tour givers. They are almost as talented as their hair is big. Big and sticky, I'm thinking. It was hot, severely humid and they were rocking a can a piece of aqua net. So, yes, they were classy, too. The tour is given on a school bus that has been painted pink. Hot pink. And the seats have all been changed so that they are clinging to the sides of the bus. You all face in, towards each other and a center table. A center table with a big doily in the middle. Well, except for a row of 2 seats that face each other with a table in between. But that's up front, right behind the driver. And there's a sign. "Employee break room." Fancy.

The tour begins at the flea market, which can make anything else look fabulous, and takes you throughout Nashville. First we drove through German town where the Jugg Sisters, our official tour guides, were kind enough to point out the indigenous people. "HEY Y'ALL GERMANS!" They were a group of African Americans walking down the street. Maybe they thought the girls were just that friendly, because they waved back. Maybe they were German. The bus was filled with myself, Nikki, a row of four men from long beach, two women from NY and six older folks from Alabama. The row of men from long beach was obviously gay, as were the "womyn" from NY. What's the plural of womyn? The tour guides thought Nikki and I were a couple and we just went along for the ride without ever really answering their questions. And I call them questions, but they were really more like judgments. It was now the rainbow tour. Turn on the disco ball. I think they must have asked Nikki if they could touch her breasts no less than six times. One tour guide was in love with Leonardo, one of the gay men on board. She did everything possible so that she could lean over him as she looked out of the window. She sang him songs and gave him some crackers and a whole can of cheese wiz. "Just for you, dumplin'." Judy was a talkative tourist from Alabama with big, white hair and a Louis Vuitton tote. Her husband and friends couldn't decide if this tour was tacky, tasteless or funny, so they didn't say much. Lots of muffled laughter mixed with wincing. Their thinking seems to have been this: when in the buckle of the Bible Belt, there is no need to request right wing bus tours. All tours in the Buckle are right wing tours. Ah, but not so much. Not when the tour is titled "Nash Trash."

We drove past the historical buildings and the Frist museum. "A product of a Tennessee education. How embarrassin'." It really is called the Frist, by the way, but half of the people were not aware. I had already been there, because I'm so very cultured. The tour takes you through the bar district, as well. About twenty per block. My kind of town. All the while they're filling you with sordid gossip about anyone who lives in Nashville or is a country singer. And there are a lot of sordid details. More than enough for a ninety minute tour. This one slept with that one who was married to this one and they are both Christian country singers and whoa boy if the church wasn't upset when that got out. There was an older, bald gentleman walking down the street and one of the Jugg Sisters got very excited. "GARTH BROOKS! Y'ALL SAY HELLO TO GARTH BROOKS!" He was all freaked out and started looking for Garth, himself. We went past a whole row of strip clubs. "Hundreds of beautiful girls. And three ugly ones." One of the sisters asked Judy, the older woman from Alabama, if she wanted them to stop so that she could pick up her paycheck. The tour drives by a bar that has a back entrance which leads directly into the Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Ole Opry. Many a singer stumbled from one entrance to the other. More lurid details about drunken country singers. One gentleman, and I can't for the life of me remember who, was in the mood for some whiskey. His wife wasn't in the mood for his dependency issues and hid his car keys, which just made him that much more determined. He proceeded to drive his riding lawnmower down Franklin Street to the liquor store and then stop at the bar across from the Ryman. I hope he enjoyed his whiskey. As we were leaving, three ladies carrying Burger King bags were standing on the corner waiting for the light. "IT'S THE DIXIE CHICKS! [Loud whisper] and they've gained some weight!" The girls instinctively started to hide their Whoppers, but managed to smile the entire time. Locals. At this point my abs were aching. It was the most hateful event I'd ever been a part of. Besides family reunions, but this was much more fun.

The trip allows for an intermission. Or half time, which might be more appropriate. They drive you right up to the steps of the Country Music Hall of Fame and inform you that there is a bar inside. And bathrooms. Oh, and you are encouraged to bring your own booze on the tour. It's Nashville, after all. As we were all getting off the bus one of the Juggs yells out, "DON'T FORGET WHICH BUS YOU ARE ON!" The street was lined with big buses. Fancy rock star type buses. And one short, hot pink school bus. I think we'll remember. One of the other perks in Nashville is that you can smoke everywhere. In fact, you are encouraged to smoke everywhere. Everywhere but the Country Music Hall of Fame. Isn't that ironic? On the steps outside I started talking with Leonardo, who was also enjoying the Nash Trash tour. He has been to my local OC bar and we knew some of the same people. It's a small gay world after all. His other friends were quite fun, as well. We concluded that I should go up to Long Beach and appreciate their gay scene. Fag hags must diversify or they wither and die. We had a cocktail inside; I looked at the washroom and decided I didn't want to use it until it was cleaner, and then got back on the bus for more joviality.

There is a statue in the middle of a roundabout just off the Vanderbilt campus. It depicts seven people, men and women with backs facing each other, holding hands in a circle and leaning outward. Torso first. They are, of course, nude. They are statues. Stone. It's classic. It's art. Apparently Nashville will have no such thing, because it was the center of an enormous controversy. The genitals of one particular statue were considered too large to be tasteful. Not that they could agree on the rest of the statues being in good taste. The solution was to cover his nether regions with a loincloth. Time period friendly, according to the right wing conservatives in charge of the protests. This lasted for a few weeks, until weather discarded the cloth. Weather or angry artists or livid students. No one really knows. But I think the statue has grown on the angry protesters, because they have yet to re-cover the stone groin. Leslie, Nikki's friend, was telling us about the unveiling, which she attended. The piece was covered with an enormous white cloth and a crane was lifting it for the reveal. Something got stuck and the crane stopped half way. The cloth was just high enough so that you could see all of the rock solid members, but none of the torsos. It was the shock and awe campaign of Nashville. People were either giggling or passing out. Divided right down the middle. It still makes me laugh, even though it's pretty predictable.

At the end of the tour they give you a little pop quiz. Some of it regarding Tennessee history, which was OK, but some are questions about country music. I didn't know Vince Gill from Garth Brooks. Nikki is just as knowledgeable of country music. When they pointed her out and asked a country question, her answer was "Garth Brooks?" This would've been her answer to any country music question, as it was the only name she knew. Everyone else laughed and the tour guide pointed at her chest. "Thank god you have big tits, because that thing [pointing at her head] isn't going to get you anywhere." And for the duration of this tour they are making homosexual references. They would tack on "not that there's anything wrong with that" after each comment. One would refer to a make out session with Dolly Parton. Now that I think about it, I know that name. Maybe I could've won a prize. The prize was a cookbook penned by the Jugg Sisters, themselves. It covered everything from ham hocks to international cuisine such as Swedish meatballs and spaghetti. They're bigger than just Nashville. They've lived in LA. They know Ashley Judd, not to be confused with Jugg. They can point out famous people on the streets of Nashville, because they are famous, also. Famous people aren't like you and me. Only famous people can point and scream at other famous people. If you or I tried it, I don't think it would turn out as well in the end. We needed them on this tour. We needed Bubba, the driver, too. It was a codependent relationship.

Determined drag.

Later that night we decided to partake in the local drag scene. One of the biggest gay bars in town has daily shows at eleven o'clock P.M. and one o'clock A.M. This bar is absolutely enormous. When you first walk into the main entry you are confronted by two additional entrances. On one side is a piano bar, with is subdued patrons humming show tunes, and on the other is a much larger area pumping you full of trance music. We decided to move around before deciding which atmosphere would reflect our mood. As you make your way through the trance area you pass an enormous dance floor and mirrored wall upon mirrored wall. There are solo stages, which look like handmade wooden boxes that have been painted silver. They are jetting out at twenty-foot intervals and are maybe two feet by two feet. This struck me as a safety hazard, but as I was not wearing a badge nor had I been elected honorary mayor of the city, I kept walking. Next to the wall of mirrors is an old fashioned double door. Like you'd find in any respectable whorehouse or salon. Pushing them open leads to a mechanical bull and a dj spinning country music. It is in this room that the bathroom is located. Bathroom. Singular. With a big sign on the door stating, "ONLY ONE PERSON AT A TIME! NO EXCEPTIONS!" Just past the lovely single bathroom stall is an outdoor patio. There you can enjoy beach boy classics and hula tunes. Everything is made out of bamboo. Everything. The wait staff was pushing their way through the crowd with bamboo trays holding multiple umbrella-ridden cocktails. We made our way through the patio and into the back room. And I use the term "back room" in the literal sense, due to it being the furthest room from the entrance. It was by no means your stereotypical back room, with dim lights and sex acts around every corner. We weren't allowed into that back room. We tried. This is the back room where the big, shiny stage is located and where the fabulous drag shows take place.

Drag queen posters covered the silver leaf gilded walls of the back room. The names alone are worth the trip. As we were deciding which table would be close enough to the stage, yet not too close to be involved in any aspect of the show, we saw Leonardo. Nash Trash tour Leonardo. And he was alone. His Long Beach friends had been lost to the bathroom stall. No wonder they had posted a sign. We asked him to join us and we all waited for the big opening act.

The bar was packed. Standing room only. As the show began, I discovered the biggest difference in drag shows when it comes to North vs. South. In the north, they are men impersonating women. Some live as women, some live as men. But they are all men, as a doctor would see it. In the south, they take things very seriously. They are committed. They all have breast implants and have had other surgeries, as well. No tape needed. They have cut it off and never looked back. That is serious dedication on their part. They have to live as women twenty-four hours a day. Or maybe womyn. The one question I couldn't answer was this- is it really drag when they've had the operations? What brought my attention to the lower of the two surgeries was the fact that one of the drag performers was doing cartwheels. In a thong. There was no hiding anything in that outfit. Not with those moves. She had men lining up to give her tips. They shoved them in the thong and into her bra top. There wasn't anywhere else to slip the bills. She did a fantastic rendition of "It's Raining Men" and the show came to a close. We had been there for several hours, had finishes several cocktails, and it was time to find a bathroom. Seeing as we weren't going to be having sex in this gay bar, that bathroom seemed out of the question.

Behind the Orange Curtain.

I am back in Orange County where the humidity level is well below the Nashville standard of ninety percent. It's nice to be home, but I do miss the south. Without all of the constant waving, I'm going to be in the gym five days a week to compensate for that kind of triceps activity. Although the average weight of a local southerner might be almost twice that of the average southern Californian, their arms are very well toned. Maybe they do have some advantages. The waving as an athletic overture, the humidity for great facials, the cheap booze and cigarettes, and the fact that women weighing one hundred and seventy pounds doesn't draw a single stare. No wonder they are the happiest people on earth. I am now considering purchasing property in Nashville. I don't think the fact that I cannot afford even a one-bedroom condo in Laguna Beach is the deciding factor. But the fact that all I can afford is in Riverside, home of the double-wide trailer and outdoor sofa, is enough reason to rent a U-Haul.

© 2004

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