Way up north of Houston, in the town nearest our lakehouse, you know, the people out here don’t look like the people where I come from.
Elbows look different, for starters. Out here, elbows are… well, they’re recessed, I guess you could say. Like there will be a great hangover of skin from the upper arm and a great hangover of skin from the lower arm, and then an elbow that resides somewhere down between the two, as though in a crevice. It’s not even seen, this elbow, only it has to be there, right? I mean, the arms do bend, even here.
Then there’s the hair. The women’s all look straight out of John Waters films, and the men all wear ball caps so you can’t tell what’s going on. And the eyeglasses are bigger: huge, to the point where maybe they used to be windshields on old Dodge trucks. And there are floral housedresses and there are belt buckles and there are people named Shirley and Gladys and Ruby Lee.
They are amazing!
Dana says the elbows can be explained by gravy and by pancake syrup, which she informs me are the two primary staples of a country diet.
Dana’s a lot smarter than I am (and she is from Oklahoma) so I have no reason to doubt her about this.
She also says that – given half a chance – the people out here will as soon hang us from barbwire fences as give us the time a day. Barbwire! She says this has something to do with us being women and with ancient Jewish law, but this does not make any sense to me because none of these people even look Jewish.
So when we walked into the country store last weekend with our daughter, Rachel, I decided to test her theory, and I took Dana’s hand in mine and we walked right in through the front door, flaunting our perversion in public for everybody to see.
Now, this was not a subtle test. Half of the town hangs out in the country store all of the time. The other half hangs out in the country store part of the time. I don’t know why.
And sure enough, we were barely in the front door – Dana, Rachel, and me – and right away, I could feel all the eyes on us. The eyes looked at us, and then the eyes darted around at the other country people’s eyes, seeking contact, a silent “Hey, you see what just walked in?”
I started thinking about barbwire. Barbwire!
We turned a corner and shuffled down the next aisle, and before I could tell Dana she was probably right, that’s when I overheard one of the eye-darters say to another eye-darter in a low voice, “Bernice says there are even Mexicans who moved in down the block from them. Into the old Mueller place.”
Mexicans, she said! Mexicans!
Those people were not staring at us because we were holding hands. Those people were staring at us because Dana is Mexican! Ha!
It turned out that we had taken shelter in one of the store’s three beef jerky aisles. Rachel seemed enchanted by it. “Are you supposed to eat this stuff?” she asked. I wanted to warn her about recessed elbows but figured that it could probably wait. Why not let the kid try some beef jerky once in her life, you know?
And while Rachel was trying to choose which type of beef jerky she wanted, I looked down the aisle and saw a girl not much older than Rachel. The girl was staring and tugging on her mother’s housedress and staring and tugging on her mother’s housedress some more.
Here it comes, I thought. Why couldn’t I have left well enough alone?
I turned my back as though I had not noticed all of the staring and the tugging.
“Mom!” the tugging girl said in a stage whisper. “Look! That woman looks like Barney Fife!”
|Not even a little bit.|
That girl was not staring at us because we were holding hands. That girl was staring at us because I look like… Wait. What? Barney Fife? Seriously? What happened to, you know, Bette Davis and Steve Buscemi?
So then we went about our business. Found the things we were needing to find. We paid for what we had found and we walked back out of the store without further incident.
But when we got back to Dana’s car, we saw a long scratch all the way down the side of it. The scratch had not been there when we walked in. Also, a sticker with the scales of justice on it had been half ripped off of Dana’s back bumper.
“There!” Dana said as we loaded the groceries into the back seat. “I hope you’re happy now.”
I was not happy.
Dana and I, we stood there in the parking lot under an East Texas sun, glaring at each other. The standoff was still going on as a rusted red pickup truck with no muffler pulled up next to us and a man rolled down the window.
He motioned to the scratch on Dana’s car. “I hate you fucking lawyers!” he announced. Then he revved the engine a couple times and took off out of the parking lot.
Dana and I continued to stand there for a few moments.
Neither one of us knew what to say.
Eventually, a voice called out from inside our car. “Mom! Did that man just call you a lawyer?”
I broke the standoff and moved to climb into the car.
I said, “No, Rachel, he didn’t.”
I said, “That man called Mom a lesbian.”
I mean, what would you have said? Hearing that Mom is a lesbian is one thing, but a lawyer? C’mon, the kid’s not even ten years old! There are some things she’s just not ready to hear yet.