Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Hot Sex and Banana Hammocks

So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
Oh, but these stories don't mean anything
When you've got no one to tell them to...

Man, when I heard Brandi Carlisle sing that song at Groovin' in the Garden back in May 2009, I was still reeling from having been through the wringer that year. A lifetime later, I heard it on the radio tonight after spending a day hearing stories.

Tanisha Ford had some terrific ones, gleaned while researching her new book, "Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style and the Global Politics of Soul," and shared them at a lecture at the VCU Depot.

Saying she was introduced to the soul generation by her Mom, she began by showing us a picture of her mother in her dorm room in 1972. Everything about the photo screamed '70s soul, from her Mom's gorgeous Afro to the poster of Angela Davis to the beaded curtain to the African print bedspread and pillows.

From there, she cleverly tied together the way black women dressed and the development of the modern Civil Rights movement, using everything from Blue Note jazz album covers to photographs of people such as South African singer Miriam Makeba (the very one I'd seen at the VMFA in the South African photography exhibit "Darkroom" at the VMFA in 2013) and covers of "Drum" and "Ebony" magazines to illustrate her point.

A 1973 article in "Drum," a South African tabloid, warned young women that they'd be fined or even jailed if they were caught in a mini-skirt.

Sorry, but having come of age when I did, I've always felt that mini-skirts were my birthright.

Perhaps most fascinating was how African Americans had first looked to Africa for inspiration, but once the notion of "soul" became a global concept in the '60s and '70s, the rest of the world looked to the U.S. for what was deemed to be modern and soulful.

Being part of that first generation who were offered women's studies classes in college all but guaranteed that I'd have a life-long interest in women's cultural history, so I was totally into Dr. Ford's history lecture with fashion on top.

Less women-centric, but still fine entertainment for this audience member, was tonight's installment of Secretly Y'All, Tell Me a Story, with the theme "through the wringer." Because who among us hasn't been at some time or another?

Waiting to get into the back room at Balliceaux, I chatted with a woman who'd come in from the east end while maintaining my place at the front of the line. Sitting down in a folding chair, I heard my name called by an artist I'd met at Crossroads a few months ago and when I looked to see who was down next to me, it was the vintage queen I'd seen at Mr. Fine Wine the other night.

"Oh, you again?" she joked, as the handsome chef with her handed her a bourbon cocktail.

So, the show. A blind man, a formerly homeless woman and a Senate intern walk into a bar and they're limited to true stories lasting no more than 5-7 minutes. Holy cow, that bar was Balliceaux!

I'm not sure if it was the theme or if the stars were just in alignment, but tonight's stories were stronger than they've been in some time, with some real heart breakers and major life affirmations thrown in for good measure.

Elaine explained how she'd lived in 30 different places, including her Honda Accord over the course of a year during which she continued to assure herself that she wasn't homeless (homeless people have bad teeth, smell funky and have drug habits, or so she thought). She became an expert in doing laundry in any sink she could find.

Henry was a Senate intern during the government shutdown a few years ago, taking complaints and threats from voters back home, experiencing a shooting just outside the senator's office and being rewarded with a pizza party for his effort. He's till trying to dig out of the hole that experience left in him.

Bill shared the tragic story of an abused woman friend who got a restraining order against her abusive husband, who then showed up anyway and beat her to death with a gun in front of her kids and sister, leaving behind "blood mud." His point was that her death sent out a ripple that affected so many others.

Richard called his move to Portland after his divorce a "hail Mary pass," but was grateful to land in the home of his friend Cheryl and her husband Ed, whom he described as the nicest heroin addict he'd ever met. After taking a room with another Cheryl, he was kicked out for putting a non-dishwasher dish in the dishwasher (horrors!), but found a good home with a nice Asian man, but only after pretending to be someone else.

Elizabeth grew up in a strict family, got engaged after three dates, then got married and went to prom. Unfortunately, her young husband robbed a house - "That's a felony" - just as she found out she was pregnant. "He came in shackles to see the birth." She raised her son without him and was very happy with how life had worked out.

Kristin was a career-oriented VP in finance by age 30 and then another skier ran into her at Wintergreen and she wound up with a brain injury where she couldn't remember names, places or much of anything about her life for months. Now back at work part-time, she's regained her sense of humor. "This brain injury thing, it's all in my head." Ba dum bum.

Anya's story was about her brother in Poland who'd been cross country skiing at night when a truck overtook him. Luckily, it was high enough that he could lean back and go under it, although he arrived home bloody and disoriented. At the village hospital circa 1995, the only bed was in the psychiatric ward, where the very old man in the bed next to him decided to stab himself with a fork to the wrist, causing spurting all over her brother. Anya was good enough to bring the fork for proof.

By the time intermission rolled around, I think it's safe to say that we were all gobsmacked with the stories we'd heard. What could possibly top any of those through-the-wringer moments?

Taylor could. He walked onstage, cane in hand, joking that, "The good thing about speaking in front of a crowd is I have no idea how many of you there are."

Seems he'd been coming home from helping his girlfriend assemble a Barbie car on Christmas eve when he feel asleep and hit a house. One TV newscaster pronounced him dead on the air (he wasn't). He woke up from the coma exactly two years almost to the minute that his Mom had died, but everything was dark.

He was told he was blind, "you won't be able to move the left side of your body and it's doubtful you'll ever walk again." Taylor responds by getting out of bed, walking over to the doctor, shaking his hand with his own left hand and thanking the man for saving his life.

He's still blind, but he says he's better at everything else now. Damn.

Donna found Tree Farm Guy on Craig's List, happily dated him for years ("We had hot sex!) but he didn't want her to move in and they broke up. Sniffing around on Craig's List, she creates a profile for herself (DICK4U@gmail.com) and answers Tree Farm Guy's ad looking for men. She's still hopeful about finding a nice guy, but TFG wasn't it.

J. Michael's story was about forsaking good friends for the shallow allure of a social fraternity, only to learn that his friend had died in the interim and he never got to re-connect with him. His advice was to keep good people in your life (TFG was not good people, not to mix stories or anything).

Mark called his saga frivolous after the preceding blockbusters and he was right. It began with a trip to the Chilean desert, a difficult bike ride after a pedal fell off and an ass-numbing four-day jeep ride during which the driver was eating cocoa leaves non-stop and ended with a Frenchman improbably named Jeff coming out in a thermal shirt, a fleece vest and what Mark called a "banana hammock" before disappearing.

Brandi was wrong, these were stories that did mean something, whether you had someone to tell them to or not. And, despite being asked several times, I'm not going to be sharing my "through the wringer" story, either.

But let me assure you, it's how I got to where I am.

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