Southern Smorgasbord


Heat and sunlight pours down onto the gigantic cube. Amiably blocking the flow are the nimbus formations, grey-blue and ponderous, suspended and splendid in the hot blue sky.

Unwavering trapezoid shadows slanted across the cube proclaim quiet support to the tall members of the choir spaced all around it. The choir is witnessing straight unto the sky itself, bright hallelujahs reflected in the vivid imagery painted across them, praising the glorious offerings within the cube.

All around the Wal-Mart, bodies both concave and convex are moving towards the holy place, partly bedecked in bright nylon and cotton-blends, their limbs, hot pink, healthy brown, and burnt black, eyes shielded from the blinding brightness behind dark iridescent plastic membranes.

A thousand little bullets of ice crackle and clink, diluting yet enlivening the dubious nectar being imbibed by the masses, a promise fulfilled against the intense, enervating, brain-deadening heat.

A gentle afternoon. Hair fastidiously coiffed and puffed, lips and eyes painted, ties positioned with precision, pleasant chatter as everyone nibbles the hors d’oeuvres (pigs in blankets, y’all). Pretty floral dresses and staid church suits, these are real women, womanly women who can make endless small talk and bake and sew and love men and nurture children and the community. Why, they’re even kindly-mannered towards n*****s, even though they don’t particularly like them.

The men look like dorks.

Highways snake through pinewoods, paunchy mustachioed cops stake out their prey, speed guns ready to aim, waiting for errant drivers to cross 55 or drive off the road, fast asleep. Sometimes neither the nectar nor the watery coffee is of much use. Miles and miles of dusty pinewoods on both sides of a slim two-way highway with cruise-control, dreams of slow-cooked grits on eggs sunny side up served with fresh hot biscuits and that fragrant earthy gravy, narrow diners full of sunlight, ten trees rush up at alarming speed, turbulent roar of gravel under squealing wheels. Foot moves subconsciously from gas to brake, praise be to God, Glory Be.

Blue hills and suburbs. That’s Arkansas. City centers, stadiums, and ice-skating. Nice weather. That’s Tennessee. Hot and fucking humid, that’s Florida. Beautiful swamps, that’s Mississippi. Never been to Texas. Can’t remember Alabama.

A few hundred miles away, Ms. Betty is all dressed up in a pink skirt and jacket, a hat with flowers in it, make up and earrings! Everyone in the elevator compliments her. She blushes and responds sing-song as she always does, she’s off to her annual visit with her sister. Ms. Betty, she’s soft-spoken and sweet, everybody loves her. She cleans toilets all day.

Skin-headed truck-bodied black men with bloodshot eyes that look the same to my untrained eyes, their women unshaven and spilling out of their clothes, avoid mingling with white men of more diverse descriptions, their women in high-necked tees and shorts, inspiration for Angus Young. Nearly everyone has accepted God into their hearts but are having a fair bit of trouble accepting each other. It goes both ways.

On University grounds, a magnolia flowers splats to the ground, its snow-white petals solid against its squished yellow pistils. A guy on a bike with a copper beard flowing to his chest, he is the happiest person I’ve seen on campus. Checkered flannel everywhere. It’s the 90s.

I instantly hate a girl for liking Eddie Vedder’s lips, give in and become a Christian (it lasts 2 weeks), discover that black baptists believe in worshiptainment while white baptists have admirable endurance. I fly away to far off Wisconsin to attend a No Quarter Tour concert in Minnesota with ‘some guy I met on the internet’. Our firsts together include the brand new Pizza Hut cheese-filled crusts and walking in through the out door of the Wal-mart on the morning of the concert. Nerds.

I first heard ‘Ramble On’ at the age of 7, fell permanently in love, and they opened with it.

Happiness.

Over the bridge, and Louisiana. The air smells pink, mildly electric, strawberry-sellers on the roadside, heart is wide open, the only thing missing are Mississippi clouds. Deeper in, 18th century lamps, riverboat horns so loud you can’t hear yourself speak, flying fish drawing arcs over the river, sidewalks are sticky with spilled hurricanes and mai tais and whiskey, drunks sleep inside tunnels and on steps which always lead to another place, and then another, and another. Mystical cards and tablecloths with diabolical drawings across them, muffalettas and mimosa, artists and music-makers interacting with tourists and teens wearing T-shirt-turbans and playing bongos, this is not a place of dreamers but of doers, the dirt and smell and noise and music expands you, the coffee is chicory-roasted and beautiful, beignets are ordered and eaten, there’s sugar on your nose.

Lust for life.

Somewhere in the South, I stop along the scenic route and lay me down on a verdant spread with one lone tree in the near distance. There may be more trees but I don’t notice them. Dragonflies as big as helicopters draw slow circles in the air which glows in greens and blues and golden sunlight. My palms are pressed to the earth, my face is open to the sky, my dark hair in the thick wavy grass.

Lying supine beneath the heavy nimbus ships floating overhead, in a sky as vast as the land below it, my breath becomes a sigh and my eyes are kissed shut by the warm breeze. A deep sleep overcomes me.

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