I’m embarrassed by my last trip to Mississippi. Not by one of the greatest states of the South, I love it with all my heart. I’m embarrassed by myself.
Maybe it was too much alcohol. That is very likely. Sporting a hangover and DT’s for one of the first times in my life, I had agreed to go to this Southern Mecca with a truly great friend of ours who was kind enough to take us to his hometown, introduce us to all his friends and family, take us to his favorite bar: An out in the woods, bud-light and whiskey only, smoke inside or out, no air conditioning, clapboard, gotta know someone to get in, loud, real, might-get-shot redneck bar. The kind of place that would make “Roadhouse” look just as fake and stupid as it is.
You bet your ass that was a run on sentence. I don’t know how else to write it. Our adventure started at our house in Eggleston, VA, progressed to somewhere in TN, then landed for a night smack dab in the middle of Memphis. I felt at home on Beale street, with my fancy trendy way-to-new slip on hiking sandals with lots of straps, pressed shorts and fat guy shirt. We ate and drank and listened to music until my wife and I stumbled back to our hotel. My wife’s buddy (she knew him first, and he had to approve of me), let’s call him Nic, shut down the bar, listed his way home, then took us to breakfast. I knew I had a problem with alcohol then, but I liked it too much to quit, and by then sobering up hurt too damn bad anyway. The music and vibe was great on Beale Street, don’t get me wrong. What was wrong was that I, around hundred of tourists listing about, with their I heart TN shirts, cameras, shorts and lily white legs, fit in.
We drove down to Tupelo after our behemoth breakfast first thing, which I could not enjoy with my stomach rolling at each look at a plate. It was “Big Mommas Place,” I think. I took the first shift driving since I knew it would be all downhill from there. A couple of hours later, I was right. We arrived at Nic’s sisters home just in time for me to take a slice off the shakes and tremors with something that no doubt was very expensive. By then I didn’t care. Drain cleanser would have been fine by me, as long as there was alcohol in it. We ate ribs somewhere, I wandered about the house to find the owner of the place sitting on his front porch, dressed in a pajama suit, slippers and robe; reading a John Grisham novel, smoking a cigar and drinking fine Scottish Whiskey. I joined in, and he left me an hour or so later in my drunken glory, drinking by myself under the front porch light while the meanest mosquitos I had ever seen took turns dive bombing me. I felt like England in WWII.
The next morning I found that England looked a lot better after the war than I did. We waded around in a pool until I felt well enough to travel. Nic raised his eyebrows a bit over my condition, but like any good friend, didn’t say much. He did suggest that we not drink that night.
His suggestion was ignored. We arrived in Tupelo and I was hell bent on getting a drink on. Sweating and obnoxious, wearing an even more obnoxious fat guy shirt, I was first led to a trendy new bar, where all the waitresses had on tiny football team shirts, boob jobs and lots of glitter. They sold shots at two bucks a shot, circulating with trays full for people like me. On a self-identification free fall, and drank until they pulled me out of that bar to go to the “real” bar. The one mentioned earlier.
It took Nic an inordinate amount of time to find it. Reflecting on it tonight, with my feet up and my wife and son asleep beside me, I am a bit ashamed. Hell, I’m mortified. If I were in AA I would just go find a fence post in Mississippi and apologize to it. You see, I had left my heritage behind on that trip. Only one side trip for unknown food (crawdads and alligator), more alcohol than Anthony Bourdain in Thailand and those stupid ass flowered shirts from Jos A Banks. I would have shot me too. Turns out Nic was hoping I would sober up a bit before we landed headfirst in a bar that could have walked straight out of my hometown. The air was so humid it was like swimming. Bugs doubled as flying dinosaurs. Who knew those things were still around? We were in the middle of nowhere, in a field, in a clapboard structure that only sold pork rinds (in a bag) for bar food, was stacked with pool hustlers of all shapes, colors and sizes and was cash only. Of course I didn’t have cash. I had an AmEx, which my wife wisely panned from me, three maxed out credit cards and an outfit that screamed “Fat White Guy on Vacation.”
The band was amazing, and fucking LOUD. The place was nearly coming apart at the seams. Everyone was smoking. I disdainfully turned down an unfiltered cigarette from a very large, very intimidating, very sincere man with a mullet. I pissed him off. I complained. There was no food. I scoffed at the beer. I wanted single malt. They didn’t have any. They had rye whiskey and Bud Light. I started to slightly sober up and became more obnoxious. Nobody can hear me anyway, I shouted when my wife suggested that I turn down the volume a bit. I didn’t. Everyone there, and I mean everyone, was wearing worn boots still dirty from the day or some sort of eighties footwear. For some unknown reason, I thought that was funny. Worse, I even pointed it out.
I’ve written before about the day I was accused of “Being a Damn Yankee.” I managed to have just enough sense about me to dodge a major ass beating by agreeing that I liked it “Just fine here in the South.” Looking at myself in the mirror, I was shocked into silence and some semblance of sobriety to realize that I was the one being made fun of here. I didn’t fit in. At all. Worse still, I didn’t recognize me either.
A year or so later, I sobered up. It’s been one year now since I’ve had a drink of any kind. My work jeans flannel shirts and boots are worn enough to raise eyebrows in most cities. I remember my years as a coal miner, day laborer, drill monkey, carpenter, trailer dweller and enjoyed my time as a dishwasher, prep cook, truck unloader and breakfast cook. A woman a few years older than me taught me how to properly clean a kitchen again. I cleaned toilets, lit myself on fire and worked until I was hospitalized. Then went back again. Why? Because of that day in Mississippi. I am who I am yall, and I aint shamed. I wanted to meet that guy again. The guy that superglued the tip of his finger back on, wrapped in black MSHA approved mining tape and kept working. The one who shook a copperhead off his hand as if it were a mosquito. The wood splitter. The backwoodsman. The reader, the quiet one. The one who took no greater pleasure out of life than to work as hard as I could, all day long, then still have the energy to kiss my wife and play with my boy. My wife had not met that person.
If the state will have me, I’m going to go back. I’m going to find the biggest damn redneck with the most honest mullet, cut off sleeves, boots still shit caked from the day, let my accent fly, apologize to him for all my wrongs and by him as many drinks as he wants. I’ll smoke his hand rolled cig, even if it kills me. I’ll marvel at his work ethic, world-be-damned attitude, admire his mud truck and let him know I’m from the South. Appalachian Mountains, to be exact. Near Hurley, VA to be even more exact. Used to have one of them trucks. A ‘burban. Diesel. Rollin on Forties. Beat up. travelled and lived in. We will no doubt connect and most likely be cousins.
My boots need a little more breakin’ in first. They fairly broke in now, but don’t have no shit on ’em. Soon as I get done kilt this pig, I fix that proper.
No puns intended. Hell, I’m sorry ’bout all the ‘cussin. Momma took to ‘raisen me better en at. Soon as I feel worthy, I’ll come back, Tupelo. It’s me again this time. You may not have recognized me then, but you will now.
With my boots on.