Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pennies from Heaven

     There are very few Austinites in Austin.  Don’t know the statistics, but everyone except the dude at the used bookstore near the U of T campus, was born somewhere else, came to visit, seek luck and fortune and never left.  I can see why.
Austin’s cool.  A blossoming ‘prickly pear’ in over 263,000 sq miles of dusty, redneck weeds.

     The day I met Pamela Gray was the same day I found a penny, tails up, on
The Driskill lobby floor.   There’s a feeling of unexplainable ecstasy when that happens; like in that very quiet, private moment, all the magical beliefs of your childhood suddenly come bursting up through your skin and out your smile. 
It’s like believing Disneyland is truly the happiest place on earth or the guy you carved your initials with in the oak tree that summer will actually be your husband…
Finding that penny is everything.  You think to yourself, “I found a ‘lucky penny’ and making that contact with Pamela Gray is going to not only ensure she reads my screenplay, but she’s going to want to direct and produce it as well.”  The high is wordless; so you pick up that penny, secretly place it in your right pocket and walk, in your Tony Lama, squared-toed, shit-kickin boots, on the top of the world for the rest of the day. 

     The next morning, while standing sleepy-eyed in the crowded, perpetual line at Jo’s Coffee, you look down and through the sleepy crud in your eyes; you notice a penny on the sidewalk.  Not as impressed as yesterday, you move to the “pick-up” counter to retrieve your coffee with 2 ‘shots’, happen to look down again at the wooden deck and notice another penny.  As your stir the cream in your cup, you realize that you will never be that child again; that child who believes in magic and “happy-ever-afters” and that Austin is, in facet, filled with pennies on the ground.

     When one travels alone there’s always that call of “Should I ask a stranger to take my picture? Should I just shoot the cool neon signs and old buildings? Or should I set up my camera, set the timer, and hope no one is watching?”

     Talking to strangers is always a crapshoot, but Austin’s a pretty friendly town. 
It becomes friendlier, especially in the pubs, saloons and jazz halls, as the night progresses. 
You could be asking some big-time director, producer or filmmaker to take your picture; even an internationally acclaimed artist or publisher…Or you could be asking some crazy person who didn’t take his meds that morning and has been living on Shiner Bock for the last four days. 

     There’s a certain population here that is reminiscent of the trailer park crowd. 
They all hang out on the eastside of Congress Ave.  Why the f@*!k is it always the “eastside” in every single town, city, whistle-stop?  That’s where you always find the misfits, the riffraff, the impoverished pathetics who’re just trying to make their way in this world.  I met a guy that reminded me of Tommy from Space 7 the other night; born and raised in the “hill country” of Texas and damn proud of it. 
Like Tommy, he loves honky-tonks, tee shirts with large American flag emblems and flirting with anything that has mammaries.  He drinks beer like water.
This dude, let’s call him Tommy 2, tried to pull me out on the dance floor like a machine pulls saltwater taffy…thing is, it wasn’t happenin and fortunately for me, there was this Harley couple, who just rode in from San Antonio, standing next to me. 
There also could’ve been a penny on the floor, ‘cuz that Harley dude scared the hell out of Tommy 2 and I felt a sense of security for the remainder of the evening.
Of course, I’ll probably never find a producer on the eastside, but there is a slice of life there that intrigues me, ropes me in and usually doesn’t spit me out. 


8:00 a.m. Saturday morning.  The revving VRRRM VRRMM sound of Tommy’s
3-wheel sparkly pink trike outside my trailer window. 
I peer through my blinds hoping not to be seen.
With Keystone in one hand, Tommy’s in front of my carport waiting for me to come out.  
His expression tells me he is excited to share some news.
Dressed in my sweats, coffee in my hand, I open the door, “Hey, Pinky, you’re up early.”
Yea…up before the crack-o-D-O-N!  Get it?!!”

He laughs at his own perception of humor.

I don’t think Tommy’s from Austin, but it’s certainly possible he grew up in Texas.

“Hey, listen, it’s Kimmie’s birthday and we wanted to invite you and yur…yur…
yur frr…”

“…my partner?”  I help him.

“Yea…yea…to our place for some cake, ice cream and beer this afternoon.”

I love that combo.

“Yea…she’s turning 45 today and you know what they say…the ones ending in 0 or 5 are the lucky ones…I hope y’all can make it…say ‘round 4:00?” 

“Hey, thanks Tommy…we’ll try.” 

We didn’t go that afternoon, but you know what? 
I remember being told that too: the ones ending in 0 and 5 are the lucky birthdays. 
I remember it like I remember the whole penny on the ground thing. 
There’s something to it…. Believing you could actually be in the right place at the right time; 
that a Pamela Gray could in fact read your screenplay, that a stranger would defend you against the evil bad men of the world, that a birthday ending in 0 or 5 could be a lucky one and, yes, that finding that penny could mean a door of opportunity will be opened.  I don’t necessarily think that pennies fall from Heaven.  I’m not that far gone yet, but I do think of myself as this child who’s comfortable in the company of those who believe in luck.  Whether they’re from the eastside, a trailer park, a city or way yonder on the rural back roads…anywhere that people believe in Possibility.
I just can’t do cake, ice cream and beer all at the same sitting.

Tommy 1 and 2 are just making their way in the only way they know how.
Whether it’s magic, luck or a chance encounter that happened after a night of wishing on a falling star; it’s ours to cease…or not.

Keep looking for that magic, people, and it will find you!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Live Life Unfiltered

I love getting up early and walking the streets of a city; any city.
The sights you see and the sounds you hear are unique only to that time of day.

This morning, camera in hand, I headed up South Congress rather than
toward downtown and took some “people less” shots, which after 72 hours of people-filled lobbies, workshops and bars, is quite welcoming.

Speaking of bars, I wandered into Friends yesterday afternoon when, from across the street, 
I heard a woman belting out Give Me One Reason To Stay Here by the one and only Tracy Chapman.  There were no chairs, so I pulled up to the bar, and took my place standing with the others who were already way ahead of me in the drinking competition. This band, consisting of 3 guys and their lead singer, could rock the house like nobody’s business; everything from 
Sam Cooke, Tracy, Aretha Franklin but also, originals that made us all hoot and holler 
and take to the saloon-type dance floor.  They had no “shtick”, no cd and no sideshow.  They took no breaks.  They just kept on doing what they passionately love and doing such a damn good job of it, I almost missed the independent film next door at The Alamo; my main reason for venturing down this street in the first place.

Austin is bursting at the seams with live music.  It’s that and the large, overly decorated longhorn statues on every corner that will keep me coming back.  Seriously, I’ve heard some kick-ass jazz, blues, bluegrass and country. That’s right, country!  Y’all know it’s in me, right?  

I attended only one panel yesterday and after listening to such dynamic women as Elizabeth Hunter (Charmed, L Word, Jumping the Broom, Beauty Shop…) and Pamela Gray (Conviction, Music of the Heart, A Walk on the Moon…) I knew no one could follow in their shoes.  
The topic?   The Heroine’s Journey.  In a realistic, approachable and funny way, these two women discussed both the creative side of writing female main characters and the business-related challenges of working in the male-dominated film industry.
Ironically, I attended a panel the day before which included Pamela, Scott Silver (The Fighter) and Nicholas Kazen (Reversal of Fortune) in which the flavor was totally different from her panel with Elizabeth.  Duh. 
Those two dudes dominated that panel as if the moderator’s questions were specifically directed at only the two of them.  Thank God Pamela had not an ounce of trouble holding her own, and thank God it was on the largest stage, because there needed to be ample room for these guys’ egos and genitalia.
So the good news? Women understand women.  Plain and simple. 
And we are the most capable, driving force to write about a female character’s journey.  
End of story.   Or beginning because these two women, and another by the name of Joyce San Pedro, Creative Executive for Zhiv Media Studios, all gave of themselves, their knowledge and their advice freely and selflessly and that is refreshing.  And that fills me with some kind of childlike hope.   I’ll leave it at that.
So the other cool, highly beneficial thing I’ve attended, as a fly on the wall, are the Pitch Sessions.  Each writer has 90 seconds to pitch their screenplay to a panel of producers, directors and other industry professionals.  Holy Shit!  Now this takes some you know what.  
It was a really great experience to listen, not only to the pitches, but also to the feedback given by these pros to each and every brave soul that got up and pitched.    Next year, babies! 

There are so many festivals happening in Austin!  Just this weekend alone, along with the film festival, there is The Texas Book Festival, The Day of the Dead Festival and The Gypsies Picnic that includes block after block of food trucks, dancing, and little children running around in diapers.

I roamed through all these events and more yesterday.  I cheered with the protesters of 
Occupy Austin, marched two blocks with the opponents of the death penalty; specifically, another upcoming Texas execution awaiting Rick Perry's signature... I walked around the state’s capitol and The University of Texas campus.  I even bought some Longhorn gear and 
I hadn’t even had a cocktail.  

I did make it to The Alamo to see the film, Fred and Vinnie; a low budget ($50,000) film about an unlikely friendship between two middle-age guys that was laugh out loud funny and also charmingly poignant, then I headed back over the bridge to my cave.
(Which, btw, I am growing accustomed to, but because I did work for 8 hellish weeks at a hotel…and was forced to watch the Bedbug Video…I’m just sayin.)

While walking back, I looked up and saw this brightly lit billboard for some unTexas type beer that read simply:
Live Life Unfiltered.

And that, my favorite people, is my message to you today.


Friday, October 21, 2011

A Dwarf Goby in an Overpopulated Sea

     I’ve been in Austin almost 48 hours and I must admit I could get mighty comfortable here.  The Ann Richards Bridge, the F@!*k Rick Perry graffiti, the greenery growing in between the high-rises, the Tex Mex, Cuban, and various food trucks along South Congress who start cooking early and fill the air with the most delicious aromas, the block after block of bohemian second-hand stores… and oh yeah, the girls in their  boots.
    My first afternoon, I experienced the infamous 1870’s Driskill Bar, where drinks are 9 bucks apiece (during happy hour) and one doesn’t obtain the slightest buzz even after 3.   Staring down at me from the wall, through the rows and rows of dark mahogany and marble, was the stuffed head of what used to be an extremely handsome longhorn.
His eyes pretty much said it all, “You don’t fit, lady.”  
This is the host hotel, and the buzz is if you want to network and meet important people in “the industry” then this is where you hang out in between the workshops and into the wee hours of the morning, which can be a problem for this girl because I have to tape all 9:00 p.m. shows in order to see the endings the following day.
     But I decided this afternoon would be different.  So after spending an entire day in panel after panel; rooms filled with producers, filmmakers, writers and agents, I took the suggestion of the Super Shuttle driver that got me here from the airport and found B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub for some authentic beer and authentic conversation.  I got both.  I met Chris the bartender, who also produces shorts, and Stuart the Delta pilot, who graduated from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University but is now a Buddhist.   
My tab, btw, was $7.00 for 2 very good gin and tonics.  Chris even threw in a diet coke to send me on my way. 

     As I take in the sights, sounds and people of South Congress, West Riverside, the warehouse district and 6th Street, I’m wishing to Christ I had what it takes to read a map.  After walking aimlessly (the wrong way) down one street, in a fruitless attempt to find The Rollins Theater and watch an indie film made and produced in Texas, (ironically called Unknown, Texas), I give up and return to my cheap motel room to somehow offer up a condensed summary of the festival and how a girl from a trailer park is trying to hold her own. 

     It takes guts (and a strong vagina) to go sola to The Austin Film Festival in the first place, but it takes even more to sit at bars and pubs; engaging with guys who comment on your purse more than the fact that you’ve just told them you’re a writer.
My purse is actually a guy magnet.  It’s made of aluminum can flip-tops and crocheted together in a crazy unique way by women in Brazil who probably get 2 bucks per bag.  A guy approached me in The Driskill lobby yesterday and said, “Wow, cool bag. It’s bottle caps, right?"
   There are nearly 4,000 attendees/badge holders at this year’s Austin Film Festival and over 12,000 individual film ticket buyers.  I’m a dwarf goby in a Gigantor sea overpopulated with tunas, whales and sharks.
This goby has a lot of strikes against her:
1. She’s over 40.
2. She’s a she.
3. Her first love is poetry, her second, short fiction and her third, satirical blogging.
4. She’s over 40.
5. She’s an unpublished, unproduced, unknown who happens to be an over 40 poet who writes short fiction, blogs and happens to have the coolest, most original screenplay at the festival like the other 4,000 attendees.
6. She’s a she.
7. She never has and never will live in Los Angeles.
8. She’s well over 40.
I’m not a baby, people.  These are cold, cruel facts.
     It’s as if I have two little companions traveling with me on my shoulders.
You know those cartoony icons: a red devil and a white angel.   One is sitting gracefully (white-clad angel) on my right shoulder, whispering in my ear such sweet things like  “Gobies have a place in an ocean….the writer of Blindside was a nobody…the girl who wrote Juno started with a blog…never give up…good things happen to good people…”
The other one is standing on my left shoulder, flames shooting out of his ears, wearing red Speedos and a cross look on his face. He’s shaking his red pitchfork and shouting things like,  “Gobies make yummy bait…you didn’t attend Columbia… you’re not that good of an embellisher… you don’t live in L.A…maybe your friends and family will buy it.”

     No matter how many times I put my cell phone up to my ear in the crowded mezzanine, pretending someone is actually on the other end of the line… and no matter how many times I find myself saying that I’m staying at The Driskill, The InterContinental or on the Westside with a “writer friend”, the truth is that I'm scared as shit and I’m at The Austin Motel, located in what used to be the “red light district”, with its paper-thin walls; where you put your slippers on before you walk on the floors. You can’t beat the quirky d├ęcor though, especially for 80 bucks a night.

     It actually comes down to personal choice for all of us now, doesn’t it?
At any moment, in any given situation that life presents, we decide if it will be the angel or the devil that we listen to.  Who will be more influential in making a decision, in the words we speak, the actions we take or the journey we embark upon?
Those 2 characters ride on our shoulders each and every day and force us to have conversations, make determinations and choices based on how we perceive the glass;
half empty or half full?

     This particular experience will tug at the two sides of my soul who’ve always battled:
the realist and the dreamer.  But the realist doesn’t have to necessarily be a fatalist who falls down some rabbit hole engulfed by flames and filled with flying monkeys that are screeching
“It will never ever happen, sista, so quit fooling yourself!”
I can be the hummingbird who fills her tiny beak and attempts to put out a blazing forest fire.
Or I can sit at the edge and convince myself that I am much too small to change a horrific situation.
It’s really up to each of us every minute each day, now isn’t it? 

    I’m usually fairly humble, much to my own detriment I suppose, so forgive me for sharpening my tongue, but in my very small experience writing with a co-writer, surrounding myself with a handful of folks in “the industry” including writers, musicians, artists, producers, actors (just to name a few), I am inclined to say that one difference between us is that at least I know I’m a goby.  The majority of them have this grand illusion that they are majestic whales.

There were over 5,800 screenplay submissions this year to the AFF and an additional 1,000 entries of pilot scripts.  With another year under my belt, perhaps there’ll be 5,801 next year.

Love from Austin.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Taking It To Austin

     I’ve always been frightened by “the south.”  Even when I was a little girl, and we drove for hours on some hellacious back road from Southern California to Oklahoma;
my dad smoking cigarette after cigarette and driving like a bat out of a flame and my mom, turning around every 2 minutes to tell my brother and I “to knock it off” and enjoy the scenery or she’d “draw a line on the seat between us and then it would be all over for the one who crossed it.”  Well, the scenery was miles and miles of f@*#ing cows and rundown barns and “fillin stations” where the guy would mosey on out in his bibbed coveralls and pump your gas for you at a snail’s pace, all the while speaking in some kind of language that me and my bro were weirded out by.  
     We had relatives in both Texas and Oklahoma and all were bigger than life in ever way you could imagine.  Hell, one glass of ice tea took me 3 days to finish.  I have never seen people eat so much.  Pie was the food of choice and the “N” word was thrown around as casually as a football.  But that was then and this is now and I’m headed back to The Lone Star State manana; to the bright lights and big city of Austin where I have never been.  From what I’ve read about Austin, my daddy wouldn’t have tread there if it were the last place left standing on the planet. 

Destination: The Austin Film Festival
     The Driskill Hotel seems to be the center spot, the hub,  for all the action that will take place in the upcoming week at The Austin Film Festival.  It’s swanky and full of ritzy, pretty people with lots of “moola” to burn, and to be quite honest; I’m scared to the bone. 
That kind of ostentatious glamour and luxury, equivalent to the night on the red carpet, is what girls from trailer parks watch from their sofas with a bag of Dollar Tree popcorn and a Bud-Light.  Of course,  I’m nervous as hell!  But gals from a park can also fake it until they make it and I’ve packed cool (worn) cowgirl boots, ($7.50), a cocktail dress from Banana Republic ($2.00), black footless tights (a buck) and a suitcase full of other yard sale scores.  The girl’s got game and she better because the reason she’s heading to
a state that has towns called Looneyville and Buffalo Mop is to hobnob with some big boys and girls in the film industry, attend workshops and panels and hopefully pitch her screenplay, 27 Angels, to a couple people who might be willing to give her the time of day.
     I’ve spent the last two years co-writing a screenplay that’s fairly good and I’m packing my bags tonight and taking it on the road.  Actually Austin itself, from what I’ve read, sounds anything but ostentatious and it certainly doesn’t sound like I’ll need a gun. And the AFF sounds like it’s hip, yet casual and jam-packed with big names that are approachable. 
     And though I am very proud of my trailer roots, I didn’t list trailer park manager on my business card.  But 27 Angels might tell it all and perhaps it should.  My dark comedy takes place in a park and opens a window on a world that most people would simply drive on by… a world of misfits; the disenfranchised, the low-income welfare recipients who pay for their groceries with food stamps and wait in line for slabs of free butter and cheese. 
There’s a story or two there. 
Perhaps we look away because we feel they arrived at this place in life due to their own doing.  I recall this saying my grandmother used frequently, “They made their bed, now they have to lay in it.” I think that mentality has falsely guided an entire generation of Americans; that and this one which goes hand-in-hand, “First of all, I don’t see America having problems.” a direct quote of George W. Bush when being interviewed by Bob Costas at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. 
     According to the Reuters report, nearly 40 million Americans receive food stamps; that’s 1 out of 8.  This has increased by 260,000 since the economic recession of 2008.  Hmm…an increase in people who can’t buy food and at the same time, an increase of profits for CEOs and companies like Chevron.  Hey, did you know that health insurance companies found increased profits of 56 percent in 2009?  No wonder Republicans don’t want Universal Health Care.  Their sugar daddies in the health insurance ‘bank’ wouldn’t be able to buy them as many treats.  I believe we look away, not because we necessarily think like my grandmother or like George, but because if we look too long, then, in turn, we must take a hard look at our own lives and ourselves.
     I hope I’ve got what it takes to not only wear my yard sale rags with confidence, but hold my head high and talk about my project, 27 Angels, like I talk about anything that is near and dear to my heart.  It will take guts, but not balls.

I agree wholeheartedly.  I’ve got mine packed, Betty, and I'll be taking it to Austin.
And unlike Vegas, what happens in Austin won’t stay in Austin.  I’ll be reporting the good, the bad, the ugly, to you all.   
Believe me, if Austin feels the least bit chilled or unwelcoming, I can always hitch a ride to
Crume Gin, Moonshine Hill, or Chocolate Bayou; all towns somewhere deep in the heart of Texas.

See y’all in Austin!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

An Accolade

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. “
     A friend’s 8-year-old son posted on Facebook, “I am so sad that Steve Jobs died.  RIP.
I will miss you.”  Okay, so there’s no way an 8-year-old is missing or overcome with grief and sadness over Steve Job’s death. Granted, it’s a huge loss. Perhaps even a significant, mutha of a big deal, especially to his family, but come on!  I don’t care how tech-savvy the next generation is, does Max even know who Steve was?  I’m certain Max doesn’t own Mac because his mom, a single mom, is a UPS driver and although they have a decent insurance plan, “the brown” work their asses off for diddlysquat. But I will say this: given his extraordinary contributions, Steve undoubtedly will be written in the history eBooks as one of this century’s greats; right up there with Einstein genius.
     I revel being around those who push the envelope; those that dare to build their own soapbox, climb up on it, and profess their beliefs of steel, even when tomatoes are being hurled in their faces…Those very individuals are the mentors, the changers, the volcanoes on the verge of a revolution eruption. And I, for one, dig these folks.
They’re on Wall Street right now as I speak. They’re in the trenches in Nogales, in Afghanistan, in Salinas, in Soma, Japan... 
They’re feeding stray dogs, riding bikes to end the AIDS epidemic, taking mosquito nets to Africa, dancing for abused and unwanted dogs, singing in convalescent homes, spooning rice at soup kitchens. They are the unnamed geniuses that not only scream, shout and motivate, but also take action. They are the exceptional individuals with the creative power or natural ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. They are not the CEO’s of BP or the owners of The Texas Rangers.  
They don’t necessarily graduate from Yale or Harvard, and most don’t have daddies who can get them in.
Steve didn’t graduate from any college.  In fact, he attended Reed College, a liberal arts college in Oregon, and because of lack of money (and probably boredom), he dropped out.
     With all the media coverage of Steve’s passing, it seems something of global importance got second seat this last week: the coverage of 3 women, 3 extraordinary warriors was quite diminutive, yet, their contributions toward change reach beyond extraordinary. The Nobel Prize Committee lauded their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and women's rights to fully participate in peace-building work.

      Tawakkul Karman, a 32-year-old mother who heads the human rights group Women Journalists without Chains, has been a leading figure in the protests against Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. "She is known among Yemenis as 'the iron woman' and the 'mother of the revolution.'"
     Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 72, is a Harvard-trained economist who became Africa's first democratically elected female president in 2005. She was seen as a reformer and peacemaker when she took office in Liberia, a country ravaged by civil wars that is still struggling to maintain a fragile peace.
     Leymah Gbowee, head of the Women Peace And Security Network, was honored by the Committee for mobilizing women "across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women's participation in elections.”

YOWZAA! SHAZAM! These women are rockin it for peace, justice, women’s rights and bring it all not only their nation’s table, but to the world’s platter because they are the visionaries, the idea-makers, the rebels, the ones crazy enough to think they can change the world!
     I once spoke with a woman in Aptos, CA who stands on her town’s bridge every Sunday, dressed in black clothing, complete with a black veil. She stands in total silence for hours on this bridge, and has for many years. This location has been the spot for women to stand in silent protest of war.  Any war.  All wars. Including the current wars in which our President (the recipient of The Nobel Peace Prize two years ago) has increased troops and kept us in.
     I do believe, this woman, who probably won’t ever make billions or win a prize, is that kind of misfit Steve Jobs was talking about; the one who sees things differently. The one who doesn’t care about the status quo. She may not be a tech genius, or who the hell knows, maybe she is, but she’s a fearless warrior who acts on her ideals and beliefs in anticipation of a better world.  Bless her.  Bless Steve. Bless the 3 recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, and bless all you people out there in the trenches day in and day out. 
Don’t forget to take 2 Advil and wear protective gear!

To read more about the Nobel Peace Prize winners:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Ying Yang River…Part Three Start Walking Boots

You can find a story anywhere if you are looking for one; in line at Trader Joe’s, staring out a window of a tea shop, in the employee lounge of a hotel, sitting high atop a mountain, crossing a busy street or in a trailer park…
Stories are hanging out; some hiding from view, others slap you up the side of your head.

“Moving on is a simple thing. 
What it leaves behind is hard.”
~Dave Mustaine

The night the ambulance took Julie away, was one of the suckiest nights of my life.  The entire chain of events leading up to that night, came from way the hell out of the blue, just like that first phone call months prior.

I was starting to feel like a tiny insect trapped in a sticky web;  a web I flew straight into with eyes wide open.  Her phone calls became more and more frequent and her tokens of affection arrived regularly:
A plastic yellow daisy under my windshield wiper, a box of Eastman’s Valentine’s chocolates (stale as old bread), notes under my welcome mat and the ultimate manifestation of her adoration; the one that almost made me crap my pants and could be made into a Hollywood movie called:  Inappropriate and Misguided Crushes From Hell …
The morning during that ‘final week’, I opened my front door to find
17 gift bags, complete with colorful tissue, bows, and streamers…
Each filled with things like one of her personal teacups, packages of Saltine crackers, a small jewelry box, a framed print of Garfield and, in one bag, old personal photographs torn into tiny pieces.  Pretty much it was the torn up pictures that caused my skin to crawl within the stickiness 
of that web I mentioned. 

These gifts came as a thank-you for our field trip to IHOP; where I’m fairly certain I won’t be returning any time soon.
We entered during the morning rush and Julie said “hello” to all the customers eating at the counter and each one seated in every damn booth. As we made out way to our table, she could hardly contain her excitement.  She immediately plopped in the booth and started combing her hair.  When the busser brought our ice water, she thanked him profusely and when the waitress brought the menus, Julie began complimenting her on her earrings, outfit (standard IHOP uniform), shoes and hair. 
I buried myself in my menu.
She was thrilled when I told her to order whatever she wanted.
“My treat!” I said.  And boy did she order.  I think it was called the Lumberjack Special with a side of extra ham, large OJ and a small stack of chocolate chip pancakes with whip cream.
When the meal arrived, she oooh’d and awed then grabbed the ketchup bottle with both hands and started squeezing with all her might. 
Soon her scrambled eggs looked like a scene from Dexter.

Upon finishing, I headed to the register and she made a pit stop at the “little girls’ room.”  We walked together across the parking lot to my car, she smiled at me with this weird smile I will never forget, and then began singing a single line that beckoned me to follow... “ These boots are made for walking...” I chimed in “And that’s just what they’ll do…”
Her turn “One of these days these boots…” then both of us in unison,
Are gonna walk all over you!”  Then without f*@king warning, she burst into uncontrollable sobbing and fell to her knees on the goddamn parking lot pavement!

I couldn’t help her gain her composure, so I wrapped my arms around her right there on the asphalt.  In between her hiccups and convulsions, she managed get a bunch of stuff out which of course made absolutely zero sense, even to a nutcase like me,  “I got in trouble… but it wasn’t me...Grandma Cooley knew it wasn’t me…but nobody believed me …it was my best friend Mary…she stole the bag of potato chips…Grandma Cooley taught me thou shall not steal…she told me that I couldn’t go to heaven if I stole…but Andrea didn’t believe me and mother didn’t believe me…mother always believed Andrea…Grandma Cooley tried to help me…but she couldn’t so it was Mary who did it…I swear on the Ying Yang River…it was her but nobody believed me…”

That was the last intelligent conversation I had with Julie.

Two nights later, while down at my trailer, the sheriff knocked on my door.   He knew her full name, address, and even her scripts.
Clearly, they were old chums.

He asked her to step outside, asked her if she was on her meds, asked her if she had just pushed a resident down? (PUSHED A RESIDENT DOWN! WTF!)  She refused to get up off my couch or speak. 
When they eventually put her in the ambulance, she asked for me.
I stepped inside and saw her strapped to a gurney.  With her eyes clinched tight, like a child waiting to get a shot from the doctor, 
she said to me, “When I get back, let’s go to IHOP again.”  

That’s the last time I saw Julie.

 A rumor soon surfaced in the park… the manager had a mental breakdown the other night and was taken away by ambulance. 
I think it started with the bitch next door, “Ms. Ima Peekie Thru Da Blinds” and spread like wildfire.  It even surfaced at the Prunetree Shopping Center where the cashier one day asked me, “Are you okay, honey? I heard you might not be doin well.”

Well, who the hell is okay, really? Makes me wonder about sanity and insanity and the fine line we all walk between the two.
Most of us walk it privately, rather than broadcast it for the whole world to see.

I had a point to make in all this, and I’m certain there’s a lesson to be learned; yet I haven’t a clue as to what it was.
I’ll tell you though, and it’s evident by these photos,
I can barely take care of myself let alone the Julies of the world!

“The statistics on sanity are that 1 out of 4 Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness.  Think of your 3 best friends.  If they are okay, then it’s you.”
~ Rita Mae Brown

Be careful out there, world travelers!  Just keep your boots a walkin!
  Until next time…