"I'll sleep when I'm dead."
"WHATCHU KNOW ABOUT THE DIRTY SOUTH?" - The Goodie Mob
"I vomit on the south." - Me, back in the late 80s.
Sleep is my least favorite escape artist. The escape artist works best when I am away from home. The idea of comfort and leisure at a hotel are nonpoint. I cannot sleep in those places. This comes as an absolute fact when I am on a business trip in the south. It was presented to me that Missouri is the midwest. That MO held its ground during the civil war. That these people aren't from the dirty southern mentality. That didn't change my internal mechanism as I loaded up last Feb to go to MO for a week. Sleep was still the unseduceable harlot that she has always been.
I ain't gonna lie, I have struggled with the south. Historically and even more recently, when I lived in east Texas for a several year stint. My grandfather was killed in the south. My grandmother died in the south. I have been called a nigger by more than one white man in the south.
ME AND THE SOUTH HAVE ISSUES.
My job requires that I go to Missouri once or twice a year. Shoot, I am going to have to go to Oklahoma here pretty quick. I have got to start working on these internal southern issues.
Yes, for my job I make the tests that you fail. This time I had to sit at a table and explain to some people who thought that I was some upstart hippie that it is good to fail my tests. One guy at the table admitted that he would fail the test. He basically said that he was ignorant and that he understood why students would struggle with such a thing. I had to be very polite as I reloaded my verbal cannon with his very own words and fired them back into his FACE. It was the most professional headshot I have ever done. I'll bet he wakes up in six months and realizes how hard I schooled him. I did it with a smile. I talked to him like a pal. But the underlying message was that he needed to invest in a dictionary if he wants to understand my test or me, the person behind it. As a professional man of color, my guard is always up when I am away from the coast. When I have to explain myself in Deliverance country, I make sure I slap these people down with the multi-syllabic attack so that they don't start up the dueling banjos.
Do you read what I am saying here? I have a problem, a deep down problem with the south. I know this. I require a revelation. I knew that I required a revelation when I went in these past two times. Dare I say, something along those lines is beginning to take place within me.
In February, I flew into Springfield Missouri with the team and drove a few hours to the Lake of the Ozarks for a presentation. One more time, I am going to make it clear that I can't sleep when I am on the road. You would think that this trash would be fun. I fly out of state, I go to a hotel room. I have a king-sized bed all to myself. I get to eat whatever I want. I get to keep the hours that I like. I get to watch whatever television I want. NOT QUITE.
I broke it down to the teachers/administrators at the table that I was working when I quoted NAS.
"I never sleep/'cos sleeping is the cousin of death."
I said this in reference to the three hours of bitter shuteye I'd had the night before. Those three hours were fraught with waking moments focused on a complete lack of trust for the room or resignation for the sleep.
Sleep is impossible when I travel. It doesn't matter how tired I am, or how clean me+the sheets are. It ain't working. No juice. I just lay in bed. I toss and turn.
Sleep is only one part of the travel issue though. The food in the south will stop your clock. We all have a clock. I hope that yours is a daily clock. You know about when you are going to have to go...and you handle your business. I don't need to get forensic here. I am talking about the basics. I am talking about functioning as a human being. The bowels. The colon. The ease of the lower stomach tension. Excreta. Well, from what I can see, MO residents do not function like this. There are no fruits or vegetables in their regular diets. How the hell are their bowels ever going to let go of all of the starches that they pack into them? These people must excrete mirconium once a week.
At the end of the February tour, we went to this greasy spoon in Springfield called ZIGGY'S. It was an Act of God to get an orange in that place. The "veggie omelet" contained cheese, green peppers, mushrooms and onions. The "fitness omelet" contained roast beef and tomatoes. I am telling you, they basically served you whatever starch they could find in the back and then you were turned loose to sculpt it into whatever you wanted it to be on your plate. One egg, one sausage and a side of hash browns for a buck ninety-nine. That is how you get down in downtown Springfield. The night before, we went to a cool Mongolian Beef restaurant called "Incredible" but the veggies were few and far between there too.
Time change is also a beast. I called Casson in the Bronx one morning and Anna remarked that I was "up early". Damn straight I was. I never slept for more than three hours in a row during my entire time on the road in February.
In February, I was working a table with three men and one woman. The sexism was in full swing. The woman at the table was tough, but no match for the sexist barbs that were flying her way. That is just how they do it in the south. MO people respond to things that here on the west coast get you NOWHERE. I mentioned to Bill (more on him soon) who was at the table that some of his statements could bring about a serious reprimand if done in CA. He was shocked.
"We ain't beating no dead horses" was Bill's main quote. He was the table leader. I had to get through to him. I had to land this fish, or my work in MO was going to be a goner. So I told him that I would meet him in the bar at 10pm that night and we would have a few drinks and talk about life in general. So I broke camp and went to my hotel room and made an important call or two. I had to meet the team for dinner at 6:30 or some trash, so I had a few minutes to iron a shirt and watch some Flava's House of Love on VH1. Trashy brain food as well.
At 10ish, I made my way to the hotel bar. At the bar I had a double Dewars. Then another. I was schmoozing with Bill. I was making the man laugh. He is a wine-drinking, Harley-riding Republican. It was work, I tell you. We now had our hair down, and f-bombs were flying, but we were still talking about work. I pounded down a scotch and soda, then another.
We eventually talked music. He and I could have been raised in the same town. I am sure that if I'd been a kid and been near this guy when he was a kid, we would have become really good friends. He even sold me on PANTERA, which is a redneck metal band I have steered away from for YEARS. I told him my disappointment with modern music, how it was all the same and it wasn't making the big ten year shift that everyone predicted for 2002. He told me that the shift had happened in country music. A real shocker. That piece of news dropped me. I don't think that I will go into country music for a variety of reasons, but I had a new appreciation for what was brewing in the dirty south.
The race issue never surfaced. Now I have been in many similar settings in the south and the race issue ultimately surfaces. It didn't happen here. This (white) guy was relaxing in my presence, and he was relaxing some more. I am convinced that the race thing wasn't an issue with him. For me it was a southern/midwestern first.
Then the music jargon shifted to something ultimately more disturbing: new porn terms. I was aware of the "Dirty Sanchez" but not the "Candy Cane" or the "Donkey Punch" or the "Rusty Trombone". Bill was taking me to a school that I didn't know existed. We hashed this stuff out. We talked about it and joked about it and talked about it some more. He helped me to understand this new wave of depravity that seems to be blossoming with the bible belt. Since coming back, I have asked a few choice Californians if they knew about the rusty trombone. I have gotten nowhere. The south is on the cutting edge of some serious nationwide trash here, folks. But on topic? Bill and I forged a solid foundation for a relationship that I didn't think was possible...nor was I looking for it.
That is about the height of my trip in February.
I just got back from my May trip.
I had a good time. I met up with Bill at the bar one day after work. I pounded two double Dewars down and talked shop. Bill is getting out of the position he currently has and will be settling down as a Vice Principal at some little school somewhere. I am going to sorely miss him. The f-bombs were flying again and we were swapping ugly teacher stories. An ugly teacher story tends to be the story about how you got away with cuffing little Mikey upside the head and didn't wind out in jail. I never cuffed a kid, but if you know me, then you probably know how I pimped football players out to do my cuffing for me.
But the sleep still escaped me. The first night I was up until 2AM. The second night I was up until 4. The third night was another 2AMer. My last night there was a one o'clocker. I had some experiments that I ran through in order to achieve sleep. I have come up with some bonafide solutions. None of them are pretty.
#1. Drink till you are drunk.
I did this in Feb with Bill. Not good. You sleep, but then the next day you are a mess. Fortunately they had free water bottles there. Fortunately there was also a bathroom near the tables I had to work, because I drank 11 12oz waters that day. I was useless.
#2. Shoo housekeeping away.
I learned this on my last round. When the housekeepers come and toss your room, they toss your spirit with it. Everything that you have done that says that the place is your space is deleted. That is what they do. They crack out your room and you are nowhere to be seen in there. Your personality has been control/alt/deleted from the room. For myself, it shatters whatever headway I have made in feeling comfortable in a space. I got to know my housekeeper pretty well. I would drop off my dirty towels and ask for fresh ones. I would get new shampoo/conditioner/lotion from her. That was it. The unmade bed stayed unmade and the clothes stayed on the floor. The first night I did this, I gained an extra two hours of sleep. The next night I gained 5. If I was still there, I would be as soporific as I normally am.
#3. DRINK A 40
Drinking scotch is wayyy too intelligent for what needs to transpire. I needed beer. Not just any beer, but the kinda beer that gives you what Ian and I fondly referred to as a "street buzz". While drinking a 40, all of the latent ignorance within your brain surfaces. Then sleep comes upon you with the sickness. I believe that this sleep that arrives is truly the sleep that is the cousin of death. If you don't sleep, you will be out breaking laws with a belligerence that is truly overwhelming.
Furthermore, the "post-40 haze" (another Peter and Ian coinage) is enough to keep you in your bed long after the alarm has blown its sprockets. The day after a 40 is a day where you never really hit your full stride. Some sort of preservative or retarded hops hinder complete brain functionality.
I went into the 40 ozer in an act of desperation. It had been close to a decade since I had drank one. But I obviously need to buy some stock in Old 8, because that was the solution right there.
#4. HIT THE IRONS HARD IN THE AFTERNOON
I used to think it was just "hit the irons" but that doesn't work. Hitting the irons in the evening hypes me up almost to the 40-oz street buzz stage. However, this last trip, I had the opportunity to go down to the hotel gym and BUST IT OUT HARD in the mid afternoon. That is the way to go. I have only recently gotten back into the swing of the irons, but after this trip, I am BACK, BABY. I took the opportunity to push the iron that I had left at my peak almost a year ago. I was curling 70s and benching 225 with no spotter. I was squatting close to 400 and I was doing serious stomach reps inbetween it all.
Am I bragging? Yes I am.
Is it several days after the fact and I am still sore? Yes it is and yes I am.
My muscles have been twitching ever since. But damnation, I slept hard when I finally allowed the cousin of death to violate my consciousness with violence.
Overall, on the business tip, the trips were successful. But I have read somewhere that all sleep that you lose is sleep that you will never get back.
When I got back from the February trip, I crashed hard. 12 hours or something. The next morning I went out and bought PANTERA'S GREATEST HITS. I have been rocking it ever since. So much so, that when I went last week, it was the only CD that I had. I played it everywhere. The two women who I travel with (lets just say that their kids are close to my age) suffered through "DRAG THE WATERS" the whole trip. They would ask from time to time "What that sound is" and I would just say that it was the radio. It wasn't until we got back to SF that they finally saw the CD case. I still had to drive them home with it pumping ever so slightly though.
I am not dead, and I think I have more of an understanding of the dirty south. Tomorrow I go back into the office and I now know what a rusty trombone is. Funny though, I don't feel like vomiting on the south anymore. My eyes are still shot to hell, and my bowels have finally unlocked. But you know what? My connection with Bill may have been my salvation. Pantera may have proselytized me.
Forget a Rebel Flag. Forget all of the history. But something is softening within me. For all of its ugly bluster and history, I have to say that my dirty southern wounds are finally beginning to heal.