Greetings from Little Rock, Arkansas! Spiritual home of a President I never stopped loving, and proud address of the Peabody Hotel, where apparently every morning a group of ducklings parade across the lobby and into the restaurant. I hope to get up in time to see this blessed event.
Like pimpin’, road trippin’ ain’t easy. Especially when you’ve got a little girl waiting for you three days away and your late-30s lumbar muscles aren’t what they were back in the days of endless American skyscapes. Then Tessa had to go and send me this picture:
…after which, my heart about broke in two, and I was all, “Dude. It’s hard enough to find a decent salad in rural Georgia, why you gots to do that to me?”
Speaking of rural Georgia, I have two places to recommend in Jasper. The first is a new joint called Bridge Monkey, tucked away in a deeply inoffensive, well-landscaped strip mall just off the highway. They are, in a phrase, the encapsulization of my teenage id and grownup wants: an espresso joint with wifi, cute 11th-graders playing Magic the Gathering, and twenty hi-def gaming monitors with vibrating chairs.
Geeky, to be sure, but you get the feeling you could stay there forever and be swept into its warm technological embrace. And games like Dungeons and Dragons are not being played just by Super Spaz DorkWads any more – there is a new cadre of slightly-cool kids whose tastes verge on the Goth yet shop at Hollister. Brandenburg symphonies are piped onto the sound system, and the toffee nut syrup flows like brown ambrosia. All this in, basically, the middle of nowhere.
The second place, again, again! is my buddy Salem’s Jasper Family Steakhouse. I have had $54 steaks at some of the finest places in Manhattan, and I have had Salem’s Sharptop Sirloin for $12.99. I am here to tell you that Salem’s steak is better. WAY better.
The buffet at JFS is better than anything I ever had as a kid, and thus, when there, I eat like one. I know I’ve prattled on about this particular buffet before, but when so many of your friends are artists, it’s impossible not to put Salem in the same category.
I-40 in Tennessee is littered with billboards promoting as-yet-unsigned country singers and their albums. I didn’t know this was a good technique, but seven hundred billboards can’t be wrong. Because I’m a hoity-toity blue-state commie northerner, not to mention a pill-popping leftist stooge, I fucking hate country music, but I appreciate the moxie of these people. Even as I find it unbelievably depressing.
In fact, I consider myself a Southerner, and certainly I was in the South from early puberty through my 30th birthday, but every time I return I feel more and more removed from it. Perhaps I became overly aware of how much I loathe the politics of every single person I see at every single gas station, but my contempt for certain aspects of southern culture is becoming problematic.
I was inside a chain restaurant bathroom last night when a 40-year-old adult dragged his son by the arm into one of the toilet stalls and absolutely tore into him.
When I say something, what do you do? YOU DO IT, YOU HEAR ME?
I froze in front of the mirror in horror.
When your mother says something, YOU DO IT. If you MOUTH OFF ONE MORE TIME I’m going to TAKE IT OUT OF YOU!
And with that, a big SLAP!
STOP CRYING! DON’T YOU START CRYING!!
I knew the dad was winding up for another slap, so my choices were twofold: bust open the latrine and beat the ever-living shit out of the father, ram his head into the toilet, kick him in the ribs and break his kneecaps in front of his terrified son – or just get out of there.
And while I was frozen, hearing this awful commotion a few feet away, two different men peed, washed their hands and left without raising an eyebrow. Their complacence ran over to me, and I just hung my head. You will hear this story, and in your version, you will bust open the door, perhaps. If you were there, however… I don’t know. I left, got in the car, sheepishly told Salem and his family, and then thought about it all night.
I suppose it’s all too easy to lay this shame at the door of “the rural South” – kids get hit by their parents in every zip code. You just feel, however, that if it had happened in the Upper East Side, I would have been armed with enough moral indignation to at least tell an authority or two. Someone else in the next stall would have done something. Or perhaps it was just my personal weakness in the face of brutality, a momentary ambivalence that would have struck anywhere.
Sometimes, all we can do is keep our side of the street clean. I look again at the picture Tessa sent me above and think, how could I ever hit this creature? I promise you, Lucy, nothing you EVER do could be bad enough. I know you’re angelic and a baby and incapable of right and wrong at this point, but there are two things I swore never to do as long as I live:
1) call anyone “ugly”
and 2) hit a child. Ever. EVER.
I’ll think of more, but that’s a good start.