This is a story based on what I, and I think many other people, do when feeling unwell. It’s published in the British lit mag, Litro.
This story was originally here on my blog, but after a good, much-needed edit, it became exponentially better and was then accepted for publication in the iconic, warm Deep South Magazine. I could not be more proud. Makes me wanna drink a big ‘ole glass of sweet tea.
It’s inspired by real people who I knew from my dad’s hair salon in the Beverly Hills of Dallas, Park Cities.
Yes, it’s true. Our film, “His Name is Bob“, was voted by the Dallas Observer as in the Top 10 best music docs in the city.
Huge honor. Here is the link to the story.
Just a quick back story: I co-produced it with J. Sebastian and Heather Lee. Together, we are 3 Frogs Productions.
Selected to be in nine film festivals across the U.S., the film received distribution on The Documentary Channel and ran for a year. After that it received streaming distribution from Nelson Madison Films in Los Angeles, and it can be seen now on Google Play, YouTube Movie Rentals and SnagFilms.
You can also buy a DVD on our site.
The story of a spiritual savant who survives his own personal holocaust.
A line from our trailer that pretty much says it all:
Bob has nothing to offer us. Except the answer that could save us all.
Come join us on a spiritual journey.
My latest essay, “Corrective Shoes and Colonics,” was published in Red Fez.
It’s all true.
Yes, I am a sad one. But all of it, this tragic story, utterly tickles me.
Jingles. Yes. I have written them. Can’t say I’m proud. It’s just a fact: when you’re an ad copywriter, some corporations call for musical renditions through which they woo their customers. Or think they are wooing them. (Right now, the Milestone Electric “Fix it in a Flash” jingle makes me instantly frozen with distaste and anger. I want to punch the TV in the face when I hear it.)
You see, most of the time, these simpleton-ish ditties get stuck in my head on a terrifying loop and I end up singing them 24/7 like a crazy person inside my head, but sometimes, these irritating melodies spill out when I’m in the shower or taking out the trash or walking to the ladies room (or in a ladies room stall). So excuse me in advance, if you ever see/hear me singing to myself.
My jingle was for fried-in-GMO-vein-clogging-corn-oil (might even be some motor oil in there) shrimp from Long John (Dong, we said) Silvers. Yes. But not just any ‘ole shrimp. BIG SHRIMP!
Here are the lyrics:
“Big shrimp, sounds like a contradiction.
Big shrimp, we’re not talking fiction.
Big shrimp, it’ll bigger than your prediction.
Big shrimp, it’ll cure your shrimp addiction.
At Loooong Joooohn Siiiillllvers…
The jingle was sung for me by a now-deceased friend, Mark, who chose to interpret this jaunty number as a Frank Sinatra/SNL Bill Murray lounge singer, replete with accompaniment on his portable Casio organ.
It was incredible and I can sing it now. I wish you could hear me.
The agency, however, chose to make it schmaltzy with a chorus of singers and lots of tambourines, finger cymbals and congas. (Not really.) But the thing I liked best about the commercial was that the couple, two blonde-ish, middle-aged actors (bad casting, middle aged people can die eating this crap) who were meant to be in love with Long John’s Big Shrimp flirted with each and actually “toasted” with the shrimp a la wine glasses. However, while on production, they (I didn’t get to go on the shoot) saved the best for last:
These two vanilla-y, scale-paid actors consumed this death food by wrapping their wrists around each other like newlyweds do at a wedding when eating their cake and FED each other the shrimp.
I am going to find this gem of creative brilliance and post it here. All I have now is a clunky, boxy three-quarter tape that costs oodles to get transferred to a something playable. (The speed technology advances is as warp-speed fast as Twitter posts appearing on my feed. I refresh my page and there are 3 Tweets. I look up two minutes later, there are 568. True story. Sort of.)
Nevertheless, Mark sent me a cassette (what are those?) with his joyous recording on it. I played it for everyone who I could pin down in my office for at least a minute.
But the fun didn’t end there.
Mark used the same tune for another song that he wrote lyrics for, and sadly, I can’t claim authorship to them. His excellent song was “Let’s Rock Iraq.”
Once again, he sang his unique compositions a la Wayne Newton and he just tickled me – his voice had a certain swagger. Back in the backward technology days of 90s (car cell phones the size of bricks) and when we were at war with Saddam Hussein, he sang this one to me – into my answering machine. When I came home from work, I was greeted by a flashing light (always so exciting!). I pushed the button and out came these astonishingly clever lyrics:
“Saddam is such a mad man.
Hussein rhymes with insane.
He’s really got it, that man.
This guy’s a royal pain.
He’s stirrin’ up the Arab masses.
He needs some geography classes.
Look how high the price of gas is…
Let’s go kick some Iraqi asses…
And then repeat that last refrain.
When I got home and heard this on my modern machine, I just fell out (this is what they do at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church when someone is slain by the spirit. I was just writhing with uncontrollable laughter.)
I miss my friend, Mark. He was such a funny, kind, gentle soul, and so wanted to be a jingle singer. When he died, he left me all his VHS tapes of classic movies like “Gone with the Wind” and musicals like “My Fair Lady” – hundreds of them! I was in Cinema Heaven!
And while Mark never was a national sensation, he was my Big Shrimp-singing hero for a brief :30 in time, and was famous through Big Shrimp from Long John Silvers. In my office. For all who passed by.
To this, I raise my imaginary crunchy crustacean and toast a hearty thank you to the Jingle God – and Long John Silvers for bestowing upon me – and Mark – the chance to immortalize ourselves in the baffling contradiction called Big Shrimp!
Recently, my story, “My Black and White Dad”, was published in Flash Fiction Magazine, a literary journal out of the UK.
So, yeah, I was crazy that day. I was driving on I-75 in a tornado-esque rainstorm, feeling a mammoth deficit of estrogen and progesterone, and straight up terrified, like pee my pants terrified (I’m a big baby), that the 18-wheeler within inches of my car was going to shove me into the concrete barrier.
And that would be it.
Histrionic? Yes. That’s me. But I don’t like driving and especially in Dallas on I-75, where one Thursday night a bunch of guys on crotch rockets descended upon me like a swarm of killer bees, scaring the bejesus out of me, then scurried away in formation like one long, glittery rattlesnake. This memory haunts me every time I hit the entrance ramp.
Anyhoo, this is the story, the fear-based rant I dictated to my sad iPhone, a 4 that is lacking in all hipness and coolery. Also contributing to my Woody Allen-ish neuroses (love him, his obsession with death, but could do without his betrayal of Mia) is my OCD. But I don’t want to get into a loop about that. So stop I will.
Blessing to you all who pass this way….and actually stop and read.
My saga begins in Chicago’s O’Hare airport in 2008. Mom and I were on our way to London to see her favorite opera star, Bryn Terfel (pictured below), in “Tosca” at Covent Garden. We were slated to meet a group of people from the fan club, the Terfeliads, a group of ladies who caravan around the world to see this dashing Welsh super star fill their hearts with bass baritone splendor. They are, as I like to say, the Dead Heads of the opera world and we fit right in.
Icy weather had delayed us out of Dallas so we knew we would have a miniscule window in which to make our connecting flight to the UK. So here we come, down the wide, cavernous, echoing main promenade at O’Hare, running as fast as our non-sensible shoes with spindly, ankle-breaking heels could take us to our gate. We show up staggering and sweaty, hair flying in every direction (except for mom’s), dragging our over-packed bags behind us like body bags.
And then we see it – the plane slowly pulling away from the gate.
“Aaaah!” we both say, and look at each other with utter despair, dropping our bags with overly dramatic flair and flinging our hands in the air, saying, “We were sooooo close!” (I don’t know why I say “we.” I was the only one doing this. Mom was her usual elegant, dignified self.)
With crestfallen hearts, we start wringing our hands and worrying about what we might do next. How would we make it to see Bryn?
As we are doing this, I notice a man to our left. He, too, had missed the connecting flight and was less than enthused. He mentioned he had hoofed it all the way from his gate, a flight from LA. Only thing was he didn’t look disheveled or rattled in any way. No hairs out of place. No sweat around his collar. No, he was hip and cool in his dark leather jacket, toting a black carry-on and interestingly, a giant film reel the size of a dinner plate charger (but thicker) on a small trolley.
He looked familiar, but not immediately so. He was definitely Captain Hunk – tall with dark, distinct eyes and perfectly arched brows. He had an elfish, mischievous grin. And killer dimples. His voice slayed me. Very deep, resonant voice like an FM radio announcer. I knew he was “somebody”, but I didn’t know just who.
We struck up a conversation with this friendly, handsome man. He was out of ideas, too, about how we were going to get to London. We talked to him for a few minutes, sharing our mutual irritations about the plight of air travel while we all droned on, frowning and fretting with disappointment.
In a few minutes, an American Airlines gate attendant in her red and blue scarfed, official self appeared and told us we’d be on the next flight. Not to worry. It would depart about midnight and it would be taking off a few gates away.
Soon more people who had missed their connection arrived then we all waddle en masse with our bags like little ducklings down to the new gate.
Mom and I decided to get some sandwiches for our long flight so off I went to fetch our nourishment.
When I returned with full bags from Which Wich and sodas, a conversation between my mom aka The Red Headed Bombshell and this mystery man with the film reel was in full swing.
I chimed in and said, of course I recognized him.
“I thought I recognized you,” I said, “I knew you were somebody…just didn’t know WHICH body of the SOME you were.”
He smiled and gave me what sounded like a courtesy laugh. I asked about his film reel. Turns out he was taking it to the Irish Film Festival in Dublin – and he was one of the main stars, Mack. I think the film was “Made for Each Other.” Here’s the IMDB plot summary:
The best part of any marriage is consummating it. However, after 3 months of a sexless marriage, Dan finds himself in the throes of casual sex with another woman. Dan decides the only way to morally rectify this is, of course, to get his wife to cheat on him and thus he sets out to find the right man to even the score.
“My daughter, Lisa, she did a film, too,” mom said, proudly, beaming with pride.
“Yes, your mother was filling me in on your documentary,” Patrick said with a glimmer in his eye, as he popped open his Coke can.
My mind raced about what else my mom had told him about me while I away getting our food. Did she tell him I was a spinster who used to write ads in New York but was currently unemployed? Did she tell him I was not a real blonde? Did she tell him I wore corrective shoes as a child? That I hid behind the door when I was a toddler when I had a dirty diaper?
“Yes, I did a film about a homeless guy, Bob, and the tagline is ‘The story of a spiritual savant who survives his own personal holocaust.’ ” He smiled and made some witty remark and I returned with something that was less than witty, I’m sure. Nevertheless, the volley was on.
Mom told Patrick all about Bryn, and gave him Bryn’s operatic CV, i.e. where we had gone to see him (New York, Chicago, Houston, etc.), who was in the fan club and more. He looked genuinely interested.
It came time for us to board so we continued a bit of conversation as we trudged on and found our seats.
As it turned out, Patrick was sitting right behind me. Not to the left. Not to the right. But directly behind me.
After we had gotten settled and the flight took off, we resumed our volley. He talked about the cast on “Seinfeld,” “The Tick” (pictured below), as well as “Family Guy” and the many other voices he had done in the cartoon world.
I told him I had written a TV spot for JC Penney in which we cast Bryan Cranston, Elaine’s other boyfriend, the dentist re-gifter, on “Seinfeld.”
“He was your competition,” I said.
“No contest,” he said, indicating that Bryan was clearly the better, more suave of the two.
He then told me all about his wife and kids. He pulled out his wallet and showed me photos of his kids – quite a few, he had four. They had his DNA and were all handsome and gorgeous.
“You are prolific,” I said. I think he blushed.
He told me how hard it was to have a family and be an actor. Was he flirting? Certainly not, I thought. I was a Pleb. He was Hollywood soon-to-be Royalty – a Patrician. But I did try to empathize with him, telling him that when I was on the road doing TV commercials, I could not have pets or plants.
“My plants died. Even my cactus. And I had to give away my lab, my sweet Simon,” I said.
He raised his eyebrows a bit, giving me a mumbled, “Yeah, I know what you mean.”
I’m not sure the parallel was really the same. I was, though, trying.
I shared more about the woes of being a part-time filmmaker, but said we did have a track by Tom Waits – who he said he loved. I dubbed this a personal victory.
Over the course of the six-hour flight, it was a verbal joust. We talked on and off about films, TV, books, music and more. When I thought of something to say or ask him, I would pop up over the seat and talk to him. He would do the same to me. We were like little Whack-a-Moles jutting up from each side of our seats. Mom even joined in on our conversation, piping up about movies she liked, even musical groups.
“Even though my first love is Bryn, I really like the Bee Gees,” mom said.
“They are some snappy dressers, those guys. Their white platform shoes alone should be feared,” Patrick said. Mom giggled and he winked at her.
Near the end of the flight, we both decided we needed to sleep.
As we started our descent, the flight attendant came on and said we’d be landing in about an hour and that we needed to wake up, make sure we did our customs forms, and other blah blah things we needed to do to enter the country.
Suddenly, I felt it….on my socked-footed toes – Patrick’s toes! He was tall enough that he could stick his feet under my seat…and tickle MY toes with HIS!
At this point, you can imagine my surprise. I jumped up, making a big scene, bursting into laughter, and looked up to see him laughing, too.
“Just had to wake you up, make sure we didn’t lose you during sleepy time,” Patrick said.
After we landed and were gathering our belongings, he said to my mom, “This is for you. I want you to have this.” It was a jar of orange hard candies with an orange ribbon on the top. I have no idea where he got these, but he was insistent about parting with them.
Mom was gushing, absolutely delighted.
“You keep an eye on her, ” Patrick said to me, nodding his head in the direction of my mom. “You never know what the Red-Headed Bombshell is going to do next.”
When we deplaned, we said our goodbyes. We wished him well at the Irish Film Festival – and with his connecting flight to Dublin.
“You better hurry,” mom said.
“Oh yes, m’aam, I better skedaddle,” Patrick said.
And off he went, with his film on the trolley that clacked and clacked on the marble floor until the sound was just a whisper.
Mom still has the jar of orange candies. I am sure they’re rancid by now. But she and I won’t give them up, or eat them. And every time she sees them, or sees him in his commercial for National Car Rental, she tells the story.
“Do you remember the time was saw Patrick Warburton on the way to London? You know he gave me some candies..”
If I ever saw him again, I am doubtful he’d remember me. But at least, I’ll always have that moment when I went toe-to-toe with Patrick Warburton.
My mother gets her hair “done,” as in “done.” You know what I mean. She goes once a week to the beauty salon where her hair is washed, curled up in hard, neon pink curlers, dried under a domed dryer from the 1960s and then back combed, all to create a very pretty hair helmet, impervious to everything from a brisk wind to an earthquake.
Her nickname is “The Red-Headed Bombshell.” It came from an old white-haired, grisly truck driver who shouted out to her, “Well…here comes the red-headed bombshell,” as she crossed in front of his Mac truck one Sunday afternoon at the Piggly Wiggly.
Nevertheless, she goes to a salon in Dallas that is tucked away on the ground floor of a 1970s-style high rise that is affectionately known as “The Gay 90s,” as everyone there is either gay or 90-years-old. However, the salon has been in Dallas, at different locations, since the swinging 1960s when big hair was big business in this town.
My mom’s hairdresser is a woman named Ann who wears gingham checkered dresses (mostly red and white) like Loretta Lynn. She also has a parrot named Rambo. Ann likes to imitate Rambo when she’s doing mom’s hair. They laugh and have a grand old time.
One day not to long ago, my mother was sitting under the dryer and a woman passed by who looked very familiar to her. “Where do I know her from?” my mom thought. “I am sure I know her. Maybe she used to be in my Sunday School class years ago down at First Methodist.”
My mother walks up with her hair still in pink curlers to the woman who is getting a manicure, and puts her hand on the woman’s arm, as only a Southern woman would do, and states, “Tell me your name.”
The woman looks up, smiles ever-so-graciously and says, “Laura Bush.”
My mother launches in,”Oh that’s right! Say, were you a Kappa Alpha Theta at SMU?”
“Why yes I was,” the former First Lady says.
“My daughter was a Kappa Alpha Theta at SMU,” mom says.
“What is her name?”
And she told her my name. And then they smiled. And from what mom said, she was delightful and lovely. Mom said her hair looked just the same as it did when she was First Lady: discreet, brown and short. The very picture of elegance.
I find it wonderfully refreshing that my mother asks about her sorority – and doesn’t ask about her international fame, living in the White House and being First Lady, i.e. what was it like dining with the Russian Premier? Is the White House really haunted? Is it true you are really a Democrat and used to smoke? Were you near George when that shoe was thrown at him in the Middle East? Are the Secret Service guys hot?
I later found out that Mrs. Bush goes to this particular salon because she can slip in and out easily. The security risk is low. The Secret Service doesn’t have to worry about her being out in the wide open among the crazies.
And there goes my mom. Completely busting her cover. Just when she’s trying to lay low and enjoy her life with George in relative anonymity, here comes Mama, The Red-Headed Bombshell, who as everyone knows, doesn’t beat around the bush.
God tapped me on the shoulder one night.
I was about four-years-old, and I was in my bed. Suddenly, I felt a couple of pokes on my shoulder. Huge inhale. I froze. I turned over to see who it was. No one was there. But I knew it was My Maker.
When I was six, I told my mother I could see the air. I saw little squiggles, grey amoebas swimming around, interlocked like lace, pulsing like my heart, vibrating in my soul.
As I recall these two mystical, inexplicable events, there emerges from the mist of my memory a person who ties up my childhood celestial imaginings in a neat, nice bow. She brings it all together as a beckon of meaning – someone who was sent from Above to give me a message.
Through the haze in my mind she is standing behind my dad’s receptionist desk inside his beauty salon. She is leaning over and grasping my upturned hand and reading my palm. She is telling me what my astrological chart says about me, what my 10-year-old self could expect in the years to come.
I remember she was a vivacious, perky woman with a sweet smile you could just fall into. She held my hand gingerly like it was a pearl. Her hands were soft, but firm. Her soul was overflowing, generous. She had oceans to share. I awaited with high hopes about what she would tell me about my life.
“You are very important,” she said to me, her eyes gleaming with light and hope.
“You will do big, important things in your life. You have a reason to be here,” she said. “When you were born, you had all your planets in the House of Theater. This means…,” she said and drew a delicate, short breathe, “…you have a voice that must be heard.”
She had given me my mission. My marching orders from the universe.
Lulu was not the receptionist at my dad’s salon – she was just filling in for my grandmother who usually worked the desk. She was married to Woody, one of my dad’s operators. That is the word he used to describe his employees, the hairdressers who worked for him. Here is a photo that my mother found in a box she was cleaning out after my father died.
Last I heard of Woody and Lulu, they had divorced and he had moved to Branson. Rumor had it that there was a lot of retirement homes from all over the country that took excursions to this Country Vegas Amusement Park. His specialty was back-combing, teasing and coifs so in his mind, I’m sure he thought this destination was his cash cow.
Lulu’s proclamation of the trajectory of my life went in and out of my mind for years afterward.
Her long career as a comedian and entertainer, and her larger-than-life persona hung in my heart as did her prediction for my life’s path.
I had not looked into Lulu for years. Until a few days ago when I googled her.
I was astonished to see that she had transformed herself and lost 200 pounds. Her Website had a list of her accomplishments and awards that was never ending – and impressive. Here are a few, starting with the most recognized:
- 1968-1995 – Regular cast member on “Hee Haw.”
- 1980 – Guest performer at the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan
- 1999 – Inducted into the Country Music Gospel Hall of Fame
- 2008 – Inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame
Here she is with Dolly Parton, another larger-than-life entertainer.
In light of my fortune, seems she was telling me of her own. To date, I have achieved nothing of the kind. But what did seem the most miraculous was her total and utter transformation. People can do that these days, change themselves on all levels, from emotional to physical to spiritual.
I, too, have transformed through the years. And here is my story, my Soul on Parade that I performed at the Wyly Theatre in downtown Dallas in a storytelling show, “Oral Fixation.”
In the eight-minute piece, I detail the irony of pulling out all my hair and having a hairdresser for a father. This, and my crazy journey through corrective shoes, sneaking boys into my room as a teenager, suicidal ideation in Manhattan and finally, freedom in sobriety.
I am still searching for the meaning of my childhood intersection with the iconic Lulu in my dad’s beauty salon. Is it that I love to laugh, love to “hee haw” and have a good ‘ole time? That if asked to choose between sex and laughter, it would be a big toss up? That my wish to shed my “thirty pounds of life” can be a reality?
Truth is, I have no Final Answer to any of this, like on that Millionaire show. But the true piece of info I can impart is that my story, and Lulu’s, is still unfolding. My mission is still in play. Perhaps there’s hope for me yet to discover my purpose.
Perhaps that’s the beauty of it all.