Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas, Chapter 4: A Fly in the Ornament


Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas, Chapter 4:
A Fly in the Ornament

Sugar, let me tell you something: Ephraim Stouge is not the kind of person you want to visit with before your first cup of coffee. If you’re one of those poor, lost souls that believes in decaf, you might never want to face the man, lord help you.

First off, Mr. Stouge is loud. Everything he does, it sounds like somebody’s dropping an atom bomb two doors down. You ever seen the movie Showgirls? Earl and me went to have a look at it years ago, over at the dollar theatre. Stickiest floors I ever done walked on in my life, and after the movie was over, I knew why. Thank the heavens my mama and daddy have passed on to their great reward, because I couldn’t live with myself, thinking that they might’ve found out that I paid good money to sit and watch nearly three godless hours of pure-D smut. I know it was only a dollar, but it’s the principle, you understand.

Anyway. You know that actress who stars in it, that blonde that dances a lot nowadays? The one in the movie who just stomps around and throws things and yells at people out of the blue, like even the tiniest little speck of cloud in the sky is enough to set her off? Well, that’s Mr. Stouge to a tee. Though thankfully, I can’t picture the man doing any of those girly-show dance moves from the film. The thought alone is enough to send me off to the looney bin. Or the grave.

Second, Mr. Stouge is…well, to call the man unpleasant to look at is probably the kindest thing anyone’s done for him all year. His teeth make the Yellow Pages look the color of the pearly gates. The top of his head is like a pecan orchard in winter–not because he’s gone gray, mind you, but on account of all the dandruff. “Snow on the roof?” Sugar, that there’s a blizzard. In Alaska. In February. And I am truly sorry to report that the man’s skin looks like an old elephant’s knee. You’d need dental floss and a year’s supply of Pine-Sol to clean out all them crevices. Somebody evidently failed to understand the importance of sunscreen back when he was a youngun. Whether cavemen had invented sunscreen at the time of his birth is another matter.

I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. I can be a little spiteful when I go without ice cream too long. Continue reading

Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas, Chapter 3: A Bona Fide Surprise


Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas, Chapter 3:
A Bona Fide Surprise

Standing downwind of Tater, I can smell the boy coming before he rounds the corner. Brut aftershave, just like his daddy. Good thing he’s not out deer hunting today. With all them 12-pointers roaming the woods–if Billy Chisholm’s stories are to be believed, and I’m not entirely sure that they are–Tater might get himself ambushed by a couple of bucks looking to turn the tables.

Also like his daddy, Tater is usually to be found sleeping at this hour. The fact that he’s mobile right now makes me even more worried about this “surprise” he’s hollering about. Lord, I hope Madge’s little pill kicks in soon.

And there he is. I tell you what: if the sun’s in your eyes and you squint real hard, you might confuse Tater with a young Brad Pitt. Though of course, Brad doesn’t have quite so many tattoos. And I can’t recall ever seeing Brad in a jumpsuit like the mechanic’s kind that Tater wears (something I’ve never understood because my son barely knows how to put gas in a car, let alone change the oil). And Brad has more money to spend on haircuts, I’m sure. If I’ve offered to tidy up that mess on Tater’s head once, I’ve offered a thousand times, but he just waves his hand at me and says it’s his “signature look”, whatever that means. All I know is, if that’s his signature, the boy needs to work on his penmanship.

But underneath the hair and the jumpsuit and the tattoos and the aftershave, Tater’s handsome as can be. That’s not just a proud mama talking, either. All the girls at the Everlasting Arms have taken a liking to Tater at one point or other. Most of the ladies, too. And the men. In fact, the only people who’ve never seemed all that interested in Tater are Rhonda and Jolene, them ol’ spinsters two rows over. Oh well, I suppose that’s more Tater for the others. Continue reading

Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas, Chapter 2: The Leftovers


Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas, Chapter 2:
The Leftovers

Grenadine, do not panic. You hear me, girl? Do. Not. PANIC!

All right, let’s breathe for a second. Breathe like them nurses taught you down at Hogwalla General when Tater was trying to drop-kick himself right out of you. Don’t think about the birthing part, though. Land of Goshen, that was pure-D awful. Just breathe.

Better? Okay, now where is that Judgement Day Emergency Kit you got from them Jehovah’s? I know it’s not in the car. I hope to high heavens it ain’t in the trailer, ‘cause I’ll never find it. Could I have loaned it to someone? Who on Earth would I have loaned it to? Are they even on Earth now? Oh, why couldn’t this have happened back in 2012 when the Aztecs said it would? I was prepared as all get out.

“Hey, Earl, have you seen my Judgement Day Kit? Earl, come on, now. Wake up! This is not a drill!’

That man could sleep through anything but a football game. Dagnabbit.

Well, I’m just gonna have to make do. I know I got a flashlight in the glove box and my travel-size New Testament. I reckon that’s all I need to send the good lord a message. Good thing I kept up on my Morse Code classes. Thank you, YWCA.

All right, let’s hope these batteries are good. Finger on the switch, aim at the sky, and…

“Dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot. SOS, Jesus! Please come back, you forgot one! Well, two, counting Earl. I know he might seem a little borderline due to his current blood alcohol situation, but I can assure you, underneath all that beer, he’s a good man. SOS! Dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot….”

Hold up a minute. Have I got that right? Is it dot, dash, dot or dash, dot, dash? Oh, Grenadine, of all the times for you to have a senior moment. Shit!

“I am so sorry, Jesus! The devil has done got ahold of my vocabulary. It won’t happen again, though! If it don’t come out of the Thorndike-Barnhart, it won’t come out of me. Dot, dot, dot–”

Suddenly, there’s a voice speaking to me, but it’s not coming from the sky, and it don’t sound like I was expecting. “What’s with the flashlight, Grenadine? It’s a little early in the day for a disco party, don’t ya think?” Continue reading

Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas, Chapter 1: The Everlasting Arms Motor Ark


Once upon a time, there was a theatre company in New Orleans. The group put on dozens of shows over the course of about 15 years, but none was as popular as Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas. Something in that redneck holiday jamboree captured folks’ attention, made them laugh.

A few years back, it ended. Not in a bad way, it was simply time for everyone to move on. To this day, though, people still ask if we’ll ever remount Grenadine. As much as I’d love to say yes, I have to be honest: I don’t know, but I kinda doubt it. Between the lack of venues in New Orleans and the fact that our performers are so damn busy these days, it’d be a long row to hoe.

But Grenadine and her friends still live on in my mind, so I’ve decided to let ’em romp around a bit. It’s not nearly as much fun to read about them as it is to see them gallivanting on stage, but for now, I suppose it’ll have to do.

Here’s chapter one of Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas. I’ll see about posting chapter two next week.

Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas, Chapter 1:
The Everlasting Arms Motor Ark

The traffic out on Route 12 could give anyone a conniption fit, but on Christmas Eve, it just might drive you to drink.

Of course, you’d have to mosey 20 minutes out of your way to sip anything other than rubbing alcohol since Hogwalla County is dry as a you-know-what bone. Even for a little ol’ bottle of cooking sherry, you’ve got to motor clear over to London. (That’s London, the seat of Callawamba County, not the place in England. Though you can probably get sherry there, too, I reckon.)

Y’all might think that a little podunk town like our Pittsville wouldn’t have big-city problems like traffic. But you, sir–or ma’am, whatever–would be dead wrong, because first of all, there is a lumber mill just outside the city limits that accepts log trucks 23 hours a day (the exception being noon to one, which is sacred because it’s lunch, of course), and those damn big rigs run every whichway through town, blocking intersections and making wide right turns and causing all kinds of mayhem and…and….

Hold up, now. I lost my train of thought.

Oh, right: and second of all, the streets of Pittsville are capital-T treacherous today because it is Christmas Eve, meaning that everyone has forgotten how to ding-dang-diddly-dong drive. Continue reading

The country cousin of Auntie Mame and Pee Wee Herman is gone, and the world is a darker place


Me, Margaret, and Buck

This is a photo of me, my former girlfriend, Margaret, and my friend Buck in San Antonio, circa 1988. Buck passed away unexpectedly yesterday.

I knew Buck for more than three decades, and for several of those years, we were inseparable.

That’s not a fully accurate statement. It would be better to say this: Buck changed my life.

When we met, I was still in the closet. Most people already knew I was gay, but I hadn’t accepted it myself.

Buck didn’t just teach me to appreciate being gay. Corny as it sounds, he taught me to appreciate being alive. He was always up to something creative (usually involving a mannequin or two). He was always up for a party.

I know that kind of exuberance sometimes masks depression, but I never saw an ounce of that from Buck. Every night, there was something new and fun happening at his house, a new, random assortment of people. He was like the country cousin of Auntie Mame and Pee Wee Herman.

The man knew how to entertain, is what I’m saying.

For good or bad, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Buck. And I know I’m not the only one who can say that.

I’ve posted this poem before because it’s special, and it’s special because it always makes me think of Buck. It became one of our favorites after we stumbled across it in an old Interview magazine. It also describes him to a tee.

Good Time Girl
by Charles Bukowski

you had your crowd
out back. .. your people just
sitting there and drinking and
listening to you …
you were competing with
but we danced!
we had a good time!
and god, we laughed too!
you missed Culpepper!
god, Culpepper was funny!
we danced and laughed, that’s what
a party’s for!
you don’t know it, but I went back
and I saw you with 3 or 4
god, how somber you all were!
it was like a meeting of the
well, you tried to compete with me
and you failed!
I’m from the country and we know
how to party!
you think I dance too sexy!
sure I shake my ass!
it feels good!
I dance close and I follow the man’s
lead, I was always taught to follow
the man’s lead since I was a
little girl!
in the country, that’s natural,
there’s nothing dirty about it!
you’re the one with the dirty
you’re jealous because you can’t dance.
and you don’t like people because
you’re afraid of them!
I like people and I like parties
and I like to dance!
and so do all my sisters, they’d
drive 2,000 miles to go to a
well, why don’t you say something?
you just sit there drinking and
looking at me!
hey, where the hell are you
you’re always running out the
door and jumping into your car
and driving off!
well, if you don’t want my
somebody else
You don’t know nothin’ about
parties, you son of a

8 lessons dogs teach me every time they die 


Dogs are cruel.

They’re cruel to one another. They fight over food, toys, attention. They’re jealous. They often abandon their own kind when their own kind become weak, frail, old, infirm.

They’re also cruel to humans. They force us to accept life’s hard lessons–lessons they teach with a directness that even the most tactless asshole on the planet couldn’t manage.

Dogs are at their cruelest when they prepare to die. They don’t sugar-coat anything. They force us to take that journey with them, all the way to the end.

What we learn during that process is important, but few of us remember it for long. Distracted by the messiness of life, we forget about the simplicity of death. We have to re-learn it every single time.

* * * * *

Ruffin wasn’t always the best friend, but he was an excellent teacher.

Like all dogs, he forced me to understand. He told me when he was feeling good, when he wasn’t, when he was up for company, when he wanted to be left alone.

And because we lived together for so long–nearly 16 years–we had quite a while to get to know one another. He began separating himself from the rest of us a couple of years ago, which allowed plenty of time for his teachings to sink in.

Will they stick with me? Probably not. If they did, watching someone die would get easier as I got older.

So, I’m taking notes now, in the hope that I’ll remember to read them the next time this happens. And the next. And the next.

8 notes on death, courtesy of Ruffin

  1. Death is natural and inevitable. It’s the hardest thing that most of us ever come to accept. Death is simply another cycle of life, like birth, puberty, menopause, whatever. You can’t run from it. Approach it with grace and, if possible, joy.
  2. Death is often a decision. You know this already. You see it all the time, when someone passes away after a major event like a 100th birthday or the death of a spouse. Just as people can choose to die, they can sometimes choose to live (so long as they remember lesson #1 and don’t try to avoid it forever). Ruffin decided to die a couple of years ago. He began separating himself from John, Peter, me, and the other dogs. He didn’t just lie down and end all, but he did start preparing himself and us for the last breath.
  3. Death shouldn’t be prolonged. Sometimes late in life, there’s hope for a rebound thanks to medicines, exercise, and so on. Ruffin had overcome a host of small illnesses, but last week, something changed. His appetite was gone. He had no energy. He even let me cuddle him, which was a rare thing. It was obvious to all of us that he was making his exit. It would’ve been foolish and cruel to try to prevent him from doing so.
  4. For the dying, death is easier with company. They say that everyone dies alone. That’s bullshit. Everyone should be fortunate enough to die surrounded by those they know and love.
  5. For the living, death is easier when it’s ignored. Being with someone at the end of their life is tough. It’s especially easy to abandon responsibility with a pet, to hand her to a vet and say, “You take care of it, I can’t bear to watch.” But while that might make the moment less painful, it won’t make the subsequent lifetime of regret any easier. Believe me, I’ve made that choice, and I can never un-make it. Take the time to say your goodbyes. Let your face be the last one they see as they go.
  6. Grief is selfish. Only the living grieve. Much of the time, our grief is about instability, about losing something we loved, not about the one who died or the pain they were feeling at the end. Grief is irrational.
  7. Dwelling on mortality is good, for a while. After someone dies, it’s natural to begin thinking about others you love, about the next inevitable death, to see death everywhere. Live in that headspace a bit, but only a bit. Use it to make yourself softer, and eventually, you’ll begin to…
  8. Celebrate the luck of life. I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe that things happen for a reason, I don’t believe that some sentient uber-being is treating us like action figures, making events occur or preventing them from occurring. Life is a complicated mix of chemistry, biology, and physics. It is rare. It is fleeting. Don’t take it for granted. Celebrate the others in your life and the brief time that you have with them. It’s as close to magic as we come on this planet.

Nine thrift store finds


thrift store finds

1. Wooden shoes from a long-ago trip to Holland

The trip cost him an arm and a leg, but he figured the kids would like it, and as he signed the check over to his travel agent–in the days when people still used (a) checks and (b) travel agents–he thought, who knows, it might even rekindle a little romance with the wife.

They didn’t and it didn’t, and to top it all off, he spent way too much fucking money on the souvenir shoes. At least he thinks he did, this was when Holland used florins and guilders and it was impossible to keep track. He didn’t relish the thought of lugging the damn things all the way to New Orleans, but he wanted to bring back something for Jim to thank him for taking in the mail. Besides, he knew that Jim would never get to Holland. The poor idiot had never even been on a plane. He wasn’t even sure that Jim had crossed the parish line, if you want to know the truth.

But Jim didn’t follow through, that asshole. Didn’t collect the mail, which tipped off one of the neighbors–or more likely, their kids–that he and the family were away. So they returned to mayhem: broken window in the bedroom, that must’ve been how they got in. Furniture turned upside down. TV on, lights on, fridge open, everything in it spoiled, cigarette butts everywhere. The assholes didn’t take a damn thing, maybe just some pocket change lying around. Senseless. He gave Jim a good reaming but kept the shoes, stashed them in the back of his closet as a reminder: don’t trust Jim, don’t trust anyone, don’t ever leave, don’t leave anything unattended.

Marlene uncovered them when he died in the wreck and sent them to Red, White, and Blue along with his outdated ties. Good riddance, she thought, as she knocked back the last of her High Life, watching the truck pull out of the driveway. Good fucking riddance, and on to the next 50 years.

2. A hollowed-out coconut carved into a monkey head with the words “HAVE FUN” burned along its chin.

She’d bought it in Cancun on her honeymoon. It was dumb, and frankly, it was a little creepy. But it appeared the night that she’d had an epiphany: the night she realized she loved him. It took her long enough. Ten years of dating and engagement. Her mother told her she was settling, that she could do better. She probably could’ve. But he was so persistent. So she said yes.

And then, the stupid drink.

She was sipping through a straw poking out of the coconut head, and he was talking to the waiter, and as she looked up from her flip-flops–the pink ones she’d bought everyone in her bridal party–he glanced at her and winked. Winked. No one had ever winked at her before. It was genuine and adorable and dorky, and man, she finally understood that he was the one. The only one. Lightning bolts, angelic choruses, the whole nine yards: she’d done it. She hadn’t meant to, she’d stumbled into it, but oh, what a lucky so-and-so she was. She insisted on buying the monkey that night, and he didn’t protest. He humored her because he loved her until the end.

The nurses in the nursing home didn’t know what to do with it, but none of the family wanted it, so, off it went to find a new home. Little did they know that the monkey head was magic: one sip of blue curacao from its blocky head, and they’d fall instantly in love with the next person they saw. Too bad.

3. Bad wigs on good wig heads

Oh, she was vain. Vain, vain, vain. When she went through chemo, she didn’t think about her life, her kids, her cats, no. She only thought about her hair. It wasn’t even good hair, you know? Mousy-brown, fine, worn in the same long bob she’d had since high school. But it was hers and she’d always had it and she didn’t like change. Plus, as I said, she was vain.

She didn’t have the money to spend on super-expensive wigs, that Raquel Welch stuff people paid hundreds of dollars for. So, she went to the local beauty supply place every week and bought one $20 wig. Her friend Betty told her that if she’d just stash that money away for a couple of months, she could buy a real wig, with human hair and all, but it was too late: she’d already bought her ticket on the quantity-not-quality train. The wigs looked terrible on her, but at least she had a lot of them to choose from. She could eat the same thing every day–toast for breakfast, grilled cheese for lunch, spaghetti for dinner–she could wear the same outfit–jeans, black t-shirts, a red windbreaker from the casino. But heaven for-fucking-bid that she have on the same hair two days in a row.

When things were at their worst, her youngest kept her company. He was only eight, and not much of a conversationalist, but he loved to draw faces on her wig heads with Magic Markers. She bought him a set of the scented kind, I don’t think they make them anymore. He’d sniff and draw, sniff and draw. She’d watch from her bed with a faint smile. Somehow, the sight of him doodling kept the nausea away.

After she’d recovered, her hair grew back thicker than before. She felt bold, excited, brave. She’d been through hell, what did she have to fear now? She went out, bought a new wardrobe–the first clothing she’d ever had that could really be called “a wardrobe”–and sent all her old clothes, along with the wigs and wig heads, to the thrift shop. It wasn’t as bold a move as burning it all in a fire, but she thought that seemed wasteful. Plus, she was afraid of breathing in the fumes from all that plastic hair.

The same day, she bought her son a big stack of coloring books and a box of 64 crayons. He never even noticed the wig heads were gone.

4. Knife blocks with no knives

I suppose keeping dozens of sharp knives within reach of dozens of bratty kids–not to mention their frustrated moms and dads–would be a potential liability in a thrift store. Thank you, Red, White, and Blue, for providing a safe, knife-free shopping experience.

5. A swinging punch set: ombre orange and magenta glass, rimmed in gold

It was an anniversary gift from her lover, Susan, in 1974. They’d met three years before at a king cake party. They discovered that they shared a curious superstition about eating only from the green section of the cake. Relationships have been built on less.

Susan could ill afford the set, but it looked so nice with the gold rims, she splurged. It became the centerpiece on their dining room table. Once she even used the punch bowl to hold keys at a key party they’d hosted, but that was a terrible idea. Nothing happened to the bowl, of course–you can see it’s in great shape. The party itself was awful, though. Awkward. Some lesbians might be the swinging type, but not her. And definitely not Susan. It took months to talk through all that jealousy, and for what? Neither of them even got a good orgasm out of the deal.

After Katrina, they decided to move away, move someplace safe, someplace far from swamps and levees and hurricanes. New Mexico fit the bill. The punch set didn’t, though. It didn’t merit loading into the ark. It went to charity  with a lot of other clothes, books, and a surprising amount of turquoise jewelry that Susan would later miss in their new southwestern home.

6. Hanna Montana crap, so much Hanna Montana crap

Never forget.

7. Dozens of weirdly similar candles shaped like Santa

I don’t know anything about candle-making–I steer clear of that aisle at Michael’s, if I can–but I’m guessing that someone cornered the market on Santa Claus molds years ago with one particular number. Maybe it was on the cover of Ye Olde Candle Shoppe Monthly or whatever candle-makers read. Anyway, it was popular, is my hunch. The mold that launched a thousand Santa variations.

The Santa Variations. Sounds like the title of a sex guide for bears or a so-so solo performance at a fringe festival. I’d shell out for either, honestly.

8. Doorknobs still in their plastic cases from Home Depot

Why not just return them? Don’t people keep their receipts?

9. So many jigsaw puzzles

When I see them on the shelf, I always think, “Oh, I’d love to just turn off the phone and spend an afternoon settling into a good puzzle.” Then I think, “What kind of twee bullshit is that? You’re an adult, you have a life, you have a smartphone with functioning apps.” Then I think, “Even if I were willing to get all twee and sit around in a robe putting together motherfucking puzzles, I would go goddamn ballistic if there were a piece missing.” Nope, better to avoid that trap altogether.

Pat McCrory’s loss is my gain, and I’m not sure how I feel about that


Elections reflect public attitudes, or so the thinking goes. They reveal the unspoken beliefs of our family, friends, and neighbors. They take the pulse of the nation, gauge the health of the body politic, and engage in many other medical metaphors.

Are those ideas complete bullshit? Maybe, but there’s no arguing that they’re deeply ingrained. As a result, it’s easy to take elections personally.

I did just that in 2008: the election that brought hope to the Oval Office after eight years of despair also brought a profound sense of sadness for LGBT Americans. Though we had elected an extremely LGBT-friendly president, one of the most liberal states in the nation–California–had voted against marriage equality. If same-sex couples in California couldn’t secure marriage equality, what hope did the rest of us have?

Or, more to the point: if there was that much homophobia in California, how much more must there be in other states? My state? 

The fact that few of us saw all that hate a-coming made it even more shocking and dispiriting.

The 2016 election was different. Hatred was front and center the entire time. Emboldened by their allegedly bold candidate, Trump supporters had no qualms about speaking their minds–in fact, Trump’s own “straight talk” gave them the courage to speak up. This has strained race relations, made politics even more partisan (as if anyone thought that were possible), and given the Alt-Right license to shout racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic opinions that were deemed inappropriate decades ago.

But you know what’s funny? The homophobia that’s fueled the Republican party for most of recent history didn’t really pop up in this election. True, the GOP’s official party platform was among the most LGBT-unfriendly on record. However, Trump never really espoused those views. In fact, even after the election, when he was free to say whatever he liked, he described Obergefell as “settled“. That doesn’t mean that his henchmen and women won’t be trying to undo the rights we’ve earned, but that’s clearly not one of Trump’s priorities. Continue reading

Lady Bunny’s ‘Trans Jester’ needs more jester


Before Saturday night, I hadn’t seen Lady Bunny perform in nearly 20 years.

It may be another 20 before I willingly see her again.

It’s hard to criticize Bunny, who’s been a loudmouth for the LGBT community since the Reagan administration (and if ever we needed loudmouths, it was then). But…well, let’s just say that her current Trans Jester show is not the best example of a revered performer aging gracefully. Continue reading