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Kentucky Vignettes

It has to be spread out, the skin of this planet,
has to be ironed, the sea in its whiteness;
and the hands keep on moving […]
-In Praise of Ironing – Pablo Neruda

Scene I

We are lying on the upwardly-inclined driveway, blood rushing to our heads. I try not to think about the mosquitoes or the red velvet ant I squashed earlier. At the end of The Year of Bites, it cannot be a Kentucky driveway that makes me preemptively itch and scratch. The concrete is hot. The whole setup looks like that scene from The Notebook in which Ryan Gosling makes Rachel McAdams slow down her ways by lying down in the middle of a Seabrook street in the middle of the night. Except where Rachel McAdams wore a polka-dotted frock that only sweethearts would wear, I looked like a thug in an oversized hooded sweatshirt and yoga pants, as my own escort forewent the 1940’s street waltzing in favor of a nap. And where the two movie characters nearly got run over by a Cadillac, I was on the look-out for tractors.

We did not lie on the street just so I can contract my next dirt-carried disease of the year. This is the week of the Perseids Meteor Shower and it is one of the most opportune years for its observation in the Northern Hemisphere. I have never seen a meteor shower, but have always wanted to. Eyes pinned to the sky, hands pinned to the pavement, hood pinned to the ears to prevent the mosquito invasion, we were waiting for our moment.

The Kentucky sky on a foggy, muggy day is no Western Sahara star-studded wonder, but even if all the stars stay where they are supposed to, it is still an impressive sight. My sleepy companion was determined to see shooting stars for us both. Fond of razing expectations to the ground, I keep reassuring him that the sky is beautiful as is, that the clouds are no bother, that the meteor shower will still go on for a week, that the fog may clear tomorrow or the day after that.

I heard rustling behind us. “Are there bears in rural Kentucky?” I tilted my head back. There were still no shooting stars, but on that night, I made eye contact with a goat.

Scene II 

A bucket of Budweiser set us back 8 dollars. When a beer is advertised based on its “superior drinkability,” you know it will not be delicious or any kind of special. There are six women in the entire establishment and two of them are under 12 years old. The men are sporting baseball and football jerseys, cheering on one Cincinnati team or another. What brought the Addams Family portrait to Mokka Bar on a Wednesday night? E’s 9-year-old sister is entering a KidsBop competition and needs a recording of her singing abilities. Karaoke night, here we come.

A 14-year-old sibling is setting up the school’s professional video camera on a tripod like a proud father, making the site of bucketed Budweisers feel like Radio City Music Hall. An older man is crooning “Can’t stop loving you.” This man will later wink at me – never mind that he is at least 40 years my senior and someone closer to my age has his arm around me. This is Kentucky. One beer follows another, as the 12-year-old sister utters her desire to see me drunk. “We will carry you home!”, she says, sounding more like a doe-eyed college freshman than a girl who spent her afternoon watching Hannah Montana on DVR.

It is the 9-year-old sibling’s turn at the microphone. She walks up with a confidence that dwarfs women my age. Her curls are bouncing, her matching bead earrings and necklace are jingling, the first few notes of a Kelly Clarkson song that was the soundtrack to my first Harvard-Yale football game booms from the karaoke machine and she belts out “I’m so moving on, yeah, yeah” as though she fully understands break-ups, heartbreak, and the bitter resolve of a female leaving behind the man who temporarily wrecked her.

When she is done, she and her sister try to get me to sing The Hanukkah Song with them, while their brother chuckles at the thought of my rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. “Do you even know the words?” Both would be incongruous choices for me to sing; I was raised with The Little Drummer Boy and the 158 verses of the Greek national anthem. Neither of those fits in with the curls, ice buckets, Miley Cyrus, Elvis Costello, Cincinatti Reds and hand sanitizer of a Kentucky bar in mid-August.

Scene III

A different bar. The kind of bar in which waiters wear white collared shirts and thin black ties. “There is no middle bar in Kentucky,” I am told. “There is borderline seedy bar with a jukebox and Coors Light and then there is this.” This being hotel/restaurant/mall bar with tablecloths and chilled white wine. Or, during another recession summer, the same establishment but with $2.95 steak bruschetta and shrimp cocktails.

I ask the two men next to us to borrow their appetizer menu in my too formal voice. They launch themselves into a playful spiel of “well, John, do you think this young lady can borrow our menu?” “well, that should be ok, shouldn’t it?” that immediately highlights how estranging my tone must have been. We borrow the menu and soon realize that the two men will be our bar stool dinner companions for the evening. My own dinner companion volunteers that I am not American, perhaps to explain the accent I am told I have these days or to offer a veiled apology for my formality. I am fairly convinced that the men think I am an illegal immigrant. After all, I do not see many Greek tourists choosing rural Kentucky for their recession vacation. In addition to my immigration status, we establish that one of the men has not had a sober day in six years and one of his daughters is roughly my age. She went to school in Boston – “oh, you did too? Harvard? Huh! Really! I was just joking, but she really went to Harvard?”, he asks my dinner companion. “She must be smart.” All-around blushing and awkwardness, washed down with Blue Moons and bruschetta.

As all such conversations do, whether they take place at Cafe No Se or Newport-on-the-Levee, this one too turned to love. “Do you love him?”, the man asks me, and when he suspects I might, his whole face lights up. “Well, isn’t that beautiful.” At first, I think he is being sarcastic because I am still wired to think everyone is being sarcastic, especially about love. This is a man who has not had a sober day in six years and previously informed us that “life is not meant to be easy.” He is now firmly part of the Love Makes The World Go Round club, whose members have accosted me all year. As we hurry to make it to our movie, he essentially gives us his blessing and watches us walk away hand-in-hand with that dreamy “I hope they make it” look that belongs in a Jack Nicholson film with a Garden State-esque soundtrack.

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous says

    I stumbled upon your blog through someone else’s link and I have to say you are brilliant. I love these vignettes, make more!

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