Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song,
And I'll try not to sing out of key.
From "With A Little Help From My Friends"
by Paul McCartney and John Lennon 1967 EMI Music
When I told a few friends and my mother that I was going to present a piece at True Stories:NSFW, a no-holds-barred, uncensored storytelling event in Nashville, I heard some of the same things I had been hearing for a long time: I was a rock star. I would be the funniest person in the room. I was so talented. I had this.
No, I didn't. I knew none of this was completely true. Other friends who had been to previous True Stories: NSFW events warned me that there would be a mix of very good writers and professional performers. The lineup would have comedians who honed their tales to perfectly crafted five- ten- fifteen- minute sets of magic that looked water cooler chatter easy but were in fact the product of months of trial and error, sweating every word on the page, recorded and practiced to the point that it was like breathing. I would be eaten alive.
Good. Bring it. It might be a good thing if I didn't ace this.
Okay, let me clarify that I did not set out to fail. This wasn't an act of creative self-immolation. If I'd done well, I would have been ecstatic, but I knew the odds were against that happening. What I needed was to try something, maybe have fun with it, and not care if I was the best person in the room. Since the last decade, there had been this intense, relentless push from inside and out to be perfect or as close to it as I could get. This led to me getting lost in this weird mindset where I had to win at everything or nothing counted. Whatever I was before had been replaced by a word churning/fighting chicken analog. I was a real writerclucker.
I'm letting that stay there.
Writing funny stuff and doing an internet version of drop it and run was one thing. Was I really going to get up in front of a room full of strangers and tell them a funny story from my past and hope they laughed? What was wrong with me? (The jury is still out on that one. )
So here is what happened on Wednesday night: I bombed. I was nervous. My hands shook so much at one point that the audience watched in silence for thirty seconds while I struggled to turn the page of my story. The sound of my amplified voice intimidated me to the extent that Kristen the emcee had to come up on the stage and tell me to stand closer to the mic because no one could hear me. It would be hard to adjudge my performance as anything but a disaster. And yet I left the East Room feeling happy. I was so giddy I used every third red light on Gallatin Road to call people and tell them how it went.
Another big thing was I went the entire night after the show without an anxiety attack. I was calm but couldn't sleep. Usually, whenever I go out, I come home and agonize over every statement and replay what happened, sometimes all night long. I didn't do that. There was just this weird sense of being okay with those ten minutes and I'll have to admit that it worried me a little. There was something I wasn't doing or thinking or feeling that enabled me to be so healthy about letting go of those ten minutes of complete ineptitude.
Then it occurred to me. I knew what was missing: shame.
As bad as my performance was, I felt no shame about any of it. The event came and went and the only urge I felt to fix anything was to get back to the computer or my typewriter and create a better version of the story I tried to tell.
So here's my true story. I'm pretty fond of it because some of my favorite people are in it.
Hi! I’m Jas Faulkner. Tonight I’m going to tell you about a drive to Kentucky to get canning tomatoes that turned into a legend trip.
Legend tripping is what anthropology-slash-folk lore nerds like me call going to a place where things happened that were, well, legendary. There are different kinds of legend tripping. For instance, you can find sites in Tennessee associated with music. I’ve been to Grinder’s Switch, and one afternoon in East Tennessee, I found Copperhead Road. It’s possible to devote a couple of days to wandering around Nashville just see the places that have been used in movies.
The most common form of legend tripping is looking for haunted places. It's always around this time of the year that someone will want to see if Adelicia Acklen will play the gracious hostess at Belmont Mansion or if Miz McGavock has ever forgiven us for allowing Opryland to happen. Odds are good that at least a couple of times during October, I will be taking friends, some of whom grew up here and know better and some more recent arrivals, ghost hunting. I refuse to call it Ghostbusting, even though I like that movie. I like ghosts, but I don’t want to see them. The idea of ghosts freaks me out a little. Still, on principle I like them and support their rights as Ecto-Americans.
Okay, let’s get to the story
I was wandering around Allen County, Kentucky when I noticed a warning marker near a creek that is situated just so at a bend in the road preceded by a gentle hill. When you drive at a certain speed, it looks like there is a large dog in the middle of the road, a second later, you crest the hill and “Oh! Ha ha! Road marker thingie.” I called it “Gosecritter.” Visiting Gosecritter whenever I drove through that part of Kentucky got to be a thing not just for me, but for my mother and some of my friends.
I have this one friend, Kelly, who is nerdy like me. She’s an alumnus of a folk studies slash anthropology program. So Kelly and I decided to go to Allen County to buy canning tomatoes from the Amish farmers. We figured the more the merrier, so we took my mom, Kelly’s daughter, Desiree, and a couple of people who had never been up that way and wanted to go. It was grocery shopping and oh, Gosecritter! So it would be legend tripping as well. Yay!
Even though he’s just a distortion of a hazard sign on a country road, he’s our Gosecritter and Kelly, Desiree, Mom and I love him. We thought the other two people in the car would love him, too.
So we got just past Gosecritter and I noticed everyone in the back of Kelly’s Cherokee was very quiet. I checked on Mom and Desiree. They were okay, but they looked a little concerned. In the back back seats, one of our guests was furiously tapping out a message on her Blackberry and glaring at us. Her seatmate was crying.
Miss Tappy informed us that what we did was Not Of The Lord and we were to take her to Franklin, Kentucky, where her husband would pick her up. We did. We offered to wait with her and she declined. We never heard from her again. Good.
Weepy, on the other hand, could not get over Gosecritter. I explained that it was just a weird fun optical thing we like. Desiree, being the fabulous eighth grader she was at the time, tried to teach her the physics of light refraction and how things get distorted.
We drove over that stretch of road five more times. It just made her cry harder and get into this weird state where she seemed to be channeling Gosecritter. She said she was feeling the heartbreak of a poor dog waiting for his master to come home from the war. The dog waited and waited but his master never came home. This dog was still waiting and yet somehow he knew his master saw carnage at Stones River and Franklin and Hartsville and then…and then…Sherman burned down Nashville!
Oh. I know. I know. Bless her heart.
Anthropology-slash-folk-studies nerd sidebar here. A common motif in ghost stories for this region is the unfinished trip or the travel hazard-foiled journey narrative. I bring this up so you can have your own nerd moment as you recognize our encounter with that narrative detail.
Weepy got a grip on herself, we got to the Amish farm, got our tomatoes, and Kelly’s Cherokee refused to start. She tried to get going as a stairstep line of cute little Amish children told us that horses were much better than cars. It was also at that point, that I realized no matter what my cell phone carrier might claim, no one could hear us on that farm. A nice Amish couple offered to take Kelly and I out toward the main road or at least until some bars started showing up on my phone. Ten minutes away from the farm, I heard the familiar tone announcing I was within the network and I placed a call to my travel service.
The agent, a gentleman with a plummy accent and the demeanor of a maitre d' at an exclusive restaurant, asked for our location.
The Nice Amish couple gave me the address of the farm and I relayed it to the agent.
He said it didn’t exist and asked for cross roads.
The Nice Amish couple gave us the cross roads. I gave them to the agent, who tapped on his keyboard as he talked to me.
He said the cross roads did not exist.
The couple offered to take us to the closest town, which was Scottsville, where we could meet with a wrecker driver and go back to the farm. I asked the agent about this.
Was the Jeep in Scottsville? No? Well, we could not do that. Where were we going anyway?
I told him we were trying to get from this part of Kentucky that did not exist to just over the state line to the next county which was in Tennessee.
He excused himself and put me on hold. I put the phone on speaker and all four of us sang along with Lionel Richie.
Then Lionel clicked off and my agent was back.
"Tennessee?" He asked.
He put me on hold again and this time we sang along with Taylor Swift. Then he came back. Even the click that made Taylor shut up sounded angry.
"Madam, I have looked repeatedly at a map of the United States of America and at no point does Tennessee border Kentucky."
And then he hung up on me.
I turned to the Nice Amish Couple and Kelly and told them things had not gone well and the extent to which things had not gone well. Everyone was silent for a minute. All I heard were the birds calling in the trees. Then one of the beautiful Morgan horses who pulled the buggy stomped and snorted. Kelly looked around and then at me and asked:
"Do you think it would be easier if we just stayed here and became Amish?"
The nice Amish couple laughed. I didn’t say anything, but I did give it some thought on the way back to the farm.
When we got there, Kelly's Jeep was loaded on the biggest diesel tow truck I had ever seen. The Elder Amish patriarch was was standing next to it and next to him was Bubba. He reckoned we might run into some trouble getting help. Bubba’s mama was a neighbor and every Saturday, Bubba came to eat with Mama. He sent one of the kids to get Bubba, who'd figured on going to Nashville anyway so he was happy to take Kelly’s Cherokee back to Tennessee and us with it.
Bubba loved his Mama and loved Allen County Kentucky. We learned this by exchanged shouts because Bubba loved Molly Hatchet and Lynyrd Skynryd. It was a fun trip. We showed him Gosecritter and he liked him as much as we did, which was pretty cool. Bubba showed us every place he liked along the way. He pointed out the undeveloped holler he hoped to buy and live on some day, the best creek for fishing, the trailer where the herb lady lives who can cure you of whatever bothers you, and the best BBQ in Westmoreland, TN. We didn't see any ghosts and Steve Earle won't ever write about Gosecritter or Bubba or this trip, but in its own way, the day was legendary.
unless indicated otherwise or something, all content copyright 2015 Jas Faulkner/Zen Dixie.com