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Absurdity in a Southern Metropolis
1/5/00



I am a southern girl. There is no denying that fact. I have lived in Tennessee all my life. I was born in Memphis, as were both my parents. All my Grandparents are from here, three by way of North Mississippi. My great-grandfather was from Italy (Sicily, actually), and we're pretty sure that there is some Cherokee blood in the line somewhere, but you have to go pretty far back into the 19th century to see any true ethnicity.

I guess I'm just saying that my roots are here.

I like to think that the South has a culture. There is a certain myth and charm to the strange things that we do - or our families do. More than a few people have made a respectable career out of admiration and disgust for these traditions. For some reason Flannery O'Connor and Jeff Foxworthy come to mind - I need help. I'll admit that I'm a sucker for the gentle sensibility and biting wit of Tennessee Williams. I hate magnolia trees. Have you ever noticed that their fallen blossoms smell like semen? I don't get the big deal about Faulkner. What is the fascination with stream of consciousness anyway? I love a glass of cold buttermilk (the kind in the purple carton) filled to the brim with crumbled bits of crispy cornbread. I hate gravy and have never understood the fascination with turnips or turnip greens.

I don't have an accent to speak of, even though I've been known to get a touch of a drawl when I'm angry or very tired. Maybe it's because I've been doing theatre for so long. In that realm, a southern accent, outside a dialogue repertoire, is deadly. Standard American Dialect is the goal. Youíre supposed to sound like Tom Brokaw. I guess Iíve pretty much perfected it because people canít tell where I come from. They certainly don't believe that I'm from here. They usually guess Michigan or someplace terribly exotic like that. I think thatís pretty cool, since Iíve never even been to Michigan.

Since I live in a high-rise apartment building downtown, I sometimes fancy myself a true cosmopolitan. No one else at the office begins a sentence, "In the elevator this morning . . .". And I think it's cool to say, "Just leave the package with the doorman . . ." They never have to see the reality: a cheap rent-a-cop with a nasty attitude.

I was feeling that way this morning. I stepped off the elevator, wrapped tightly in my black wool peacoat, soft and flowing charcoal grey scarf, slim fingered black leather gauntlets, and dapper faux leopard hat, a brilliant shade of cobalt. I braced myself against the wind off of the river and revved the engine in my sporty white convertible roadster.

I took the familiar route down Poplar Avenue. It's a busy stretch of road. Traffic always snarls to a crawl as you pass the Criminal Justice Center, what with all the visitors and police running hither and yon across the street to the parking lots. I hardly even look as I pass by hospital, cathedral, and housing project. Just as I pass over the interstate, I come upon an old Synagogue, which is now a Baptist Seminary. The irony of that piece of real estate always tickles me. A half a block further, I smile at one of my favorite signs. It's a profile of Queen Nefertitti, the famed beauty of Egypt.. There isn't really anything funny about that at all - I just like the fact that it is a sign for a plastic surgeon (History Lesson For the Day: The famous bust of Queen Nefertitti in the British Museum has itís nose broken off). As I get closer, I notice movement on the grass in front of the building.

Chickens.

More precisely, two chickens and a rooster.

I don't know how they managed to settle in the middle of the inner city (we do have ordinances against farm animals in the city limits, you know). More importantly, I don't want to know why they picked the lawn of a doctor's building . . . especially a plastic surgeon. But, there they were - pecking away at the newly severed stump of an old oak tree.

Southern Gothic at its finest.

You can't see shit like that in New York City. Even if you do, it's not as charming.


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