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West of Mayberry

One hundred twenty-two days ago, I felt like I had said everything I wanted to say.  At least in blog form.

Plus, I would be starting a new job soon.  And I had a relationship to focus on.

So, I got up from the keyboard.  And retired.

They say that when you are in a fraternity, you are in forever.  Maybe so.  But when you become inactive, do you still feel like you belong?

It’s an odd thing when you’re on a team and then one day you’re no longer playing.  Even if you plan for it.

But, I had left things somewhat open-ended.  There was at least  the possibility of one more post.  Or two.

Yeah, I was Favre-ing it.

But it had only been a few weeks since I had said goodbye.  Before I come back shouldn’t I really be gone?  (Are you reading this, Cher?)

I continued to read my blog roll and even commented now and then. (I was never a good commenter).

But simply reading my old friends rants and raves, hopes and dreams, and slices of lives was not enough.

I was like a lonely guy at an orgy. Off in in the corner rubbing himself.  Outside the jeans.

I needed to be back in the mix.  Back in the tangle of limbs and organs, though it could get quite messy at times.

(Hey, that’s what towels and the next day were created for.)

It’s a new day and a new year.

And so I’m back.

Sort of.

When I shut down the old blog in September, I said I would be continuing to write in some form.  The plan was to begin a book.  But, that book is book is not ready to be written yet.  I’ll never be a prolific writer because I believe things are written when they are ready.

And now, this blog is ready.

You see, I couldn’t go back to LARGETONY Blog.  It’s done.  It is written.  Then end.

That was one part of me.  This blog is another.

The name “West of Mayberry” pays tribute to LARGETONY Blog. I did a post of the same title there a few years ago.  The post had nothing to do with big peckers, hump days, or even Jake Gyllenhaal. It was just a slice of my life in East Tennessee, just west of Mayberry.

And so this blog shall be.  A slice.  A semi-regular chronicle of my days and nights with Granny and the Attorney, and others who come in and out of my world (and maybe a little Jake Gyllenhaal).  I described it to a friend as “imagine if Opie came back to take care of an aging Aunt Bee and ended up dating Howard Sprague.”  (Although the Attorney is not the puss that Howard was).


NOTE:  Thanks to Todd for making the banner happen for me.

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Black-Eyed Peas, a .44, and the Dark-Haired Man With Bread

“Where did you put the beans?” Granny called up to me yesterday evening.

I went to the top of stairs to shout back because I know she can’t hear me very well.

“What beans?” I asked.

“The black-eyed peas.”

I knew where this was going.  It’s the pas-de-duex Granny and I perform every holiday season.  Just like The Nutcracker.  And she was about to bust my balls over the New Year’s black-eyed peas.

“I told you to get black-eyed peas at the store.  Did you get them?” she asked as if she was suffocating and black-eyed peas were air.

“Granny, you didn’t tell me to…, ” I started.  But I knew from the topic she was in no mood for fact.  “Nevermind.”

You see, the fact is not only did she not tell me to get black-eyed peas, but I don’t even like black-eyed peas.  I never have.  Yet, every year there’s a big discussion about it.

“I thought you liked black-eyed peas,” her suspicion raised at the thought that anyone could possibly not like them.

Frankly, in my opinion, if suspicion is to be raised, it should be at people who can shovel a spoonful of gritty, bland, eyeballs without question.

“We have to have black-eyed peas for New Year’s.  It’s just what you do,” she pressed on.  “Now go get a bag, so I can soak them overnight.”

I tried to tell her that it was a waste. She’d be the only one eating them and she couldn’t eat a half  can of beans, let alone a pot full.

“Don’t bring any of those canned black-eyed peas in here,” she screeched. “I won’t have any of that stuff in my kitchen.”

Her kitchen.  Her kitchen that she doesn’t cook in anymore except for something special.  Like New Year’s black-eyed peas that nobody is going to eat.

“I know you don’t care for them with the stewed tomatoes.  But I thought you like them with ketchup.”

‘No ma’am.  I don’t.  I never have.”

“Oh,” she pondered. “It must have been Shane.”

I honestly can’t remember if my brother liked black-eyed peas or not.  He probably did.  I was always the odd duck.

But, just to get out of the conversation and told her that stores were not open on New Year’s Eve and apologized for not remembering the beans.  Admittedly this was a little bit of a lie.  Stores were open…but they were closing early.

Later in the evening, I was talking with the Attorney on the phone.  He was going to a big event downtown in Knoxville.  He had wanted me to join him, but I didn’t want Granny to be alone as the New Year rolled in.  Even if she was pouting about the black-eyed peas.  Besides, two of my favorites, Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin, were hosting from Times Square on CNN.

So imagine my surprise when the Attorney shows up on our doorstep some time after eleven with his mile wide grin and bowl of black-eyed peas.  This thrilled Granny to no end.  I’m not sure if she was more excited about him or the beans, but she was a happy girl.

I had told him the black-eyed pea story on the phone.

“Everybody likes black-eyed peas,” he said incredulous that I didn’t.  “Put a lot of ketchup on them, then you will.”

How is it ketchup is the answer to all bad-tasting food?  It’s like a culinary “ketch”-all.  People would have you believe a homeless man’s old shoe would be tasty with a little ketchup.  I’m sorry, but if it has to be bathed in tomato sauce and sugar before being served, then it probably shouldn’t be eaten at all.

But, because he is a good guy (or because he wanted to make me look bad) the Attorney went out of his way to his mother’s house to get a portion black-eyed peas she had made and brough it  to Granny.  He had also decided to forego the event downtown.

As we sat around, he talked about how when he was a kid in the country at New Year’s he and his father and brother would fire pistols and shotguns at the stroke of midnight.  It was something my Grandaddy used to do, too. I never was one for guns.  So I’d just hang on  the porch and watch.

Surprise number two came when Granny came into the room with a .44 revolver wrapped in a scarf.  It was a surprise because I thought all the guns in the house, (of which there are several) were in the basement where she could no longer accidentally get to them.  The Attorney took the gun and lit up like it was Christmas morning and Santa had remember the Red Ryder BB-gun (“with acompass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.”)

“You’re not going to hang back on the porch tonight.  I’m going to make you shoot.”

I knew what he meant, but naturally my mind went to a whole other place.

When 2008 came down to the last 30 seconds,the Attorney  jumped up and headed for the back yard with me in tow.  It was cold out, in the 30’s, so Granny stayed just inside the door on the screen porch.  The Attorney had been counting backwards the whole time, and with a cry of “Happy New Year,” he fired two shots into the sky.  He was suddenly a ten-year old redneck boy again, instead of the starched white-collar man he had since become.

He handed me the gun, and threw one long arm around me.  “Let her rip,” he whispered close to my ear.

I was tentative with the trigger on the first round, but more sure on the second and third.  Granny was having the time of her life clapping and cackling like a hen on the porch. I don’t where the moment was taking her, but it was to a place she loved, too.

I gave the Attorney the gun back.  “There’s one left.  You take it.”

He fired it.  We both watched the sky as if we might actually see the bullet fall back to the ground somewhere out there in the woods.  And then we stood there in silence.  Listening to the new year arrive.  I doubt those of you in big cities know what I’m saying, but up here in the mountains, I really think you can hear time pass.

Granny had gone back in.  And suddenly I was aware again of the cold.  But the Attorney stopped me I turned to go back in.

“We forgot the New Year’s kiss,” he said, leaning into me.

It was long, and still, and complete.  And he told me that he loved me.

Afterward, on our way in Granny stopped the Attorney at the door with a biscuit. “Here.  Take this ’round front,” she said.

It’s an old tradition…I don’t know if it’s a mountain tradition, a Southern tradition, or what.  But, for good luck the first person to cross your threshold in the coming New Year should be a man.  (It can’t be a man who lives there.) And dark-haired men are supposed to be better luck.  If he comes in carrying bread or cake, it’s a sign of prosperity for the coming year.

And if he’s not only dark, but tall and handsome…well, that’s just gravy.

Happy 2009, everybody.  May your thresholds be crossed by handsome men who shoot (and their gravy).

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Two Exposures. One Picture.

If the illustrators of the Bible had drawn pictures of Adam before and after original sin, it might have looked like me and the Attorney.  Physically we are very similar.  Two sides of the same coin:  One side, the Attorney, has the banana leaf . The other side, me, has…well, just the banana.

I’m the Before. He is the After.

You see, where I am naked as much as the law will allow, he doesn’t go the Full Attorney except in the shower and in the sack.  Even then, his nakedness serves a function.  If he’s just sleeping, then there are at least a few square inches of coverage.1

Mind you, t’s a not a problem or issue between us.  He couldn’t care less if I’m sitting bare-assed on his kitchen stool eating an apple.2  And I find it kind of amusing that a man in great shape won’t skinny dip in his own pool despite lots of trees and a privacy wall.

I just wish I could pinpoint what keeps him under cover.  It’s not like he suffers from body dysmorphic disorder3  Just check his running gear for evidence of that. In cold weather it’s skin tight-leggings that showing every bump and bulge, and in warm weather it’s those little high-cut running shorts that would be scandalous on a hooker yet are perfectly acceptable when worn in pursuit of an accelerated heart rate or a gold medal.

And before you jump to conclusions, it’s not a pecker issue either.  Lord knows, I have seen it enough times that he has no need to hide it from me.  Or from himself.

Yes, the constant coverage happens when he is alone, too.  I’ve asked him.

” I just feel like I need something on,” he said.

Fair enough.

He needs his modesty. I need my nudity.

Ironically he does go barefoot a lot.  Ironic because that’s the last thing I want to see.  To me, if you’re going to keep something covered, make it your feet.

After all, I do.

And that’s probably just as amusing to him. 4

So there we are.  Two different exposures.

Making one picture.

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  1. the sheets don’t count. []
  2. as long as I’m sitting on a towel []
  3. although OCD, that’s another story. []
  4. All banana and socks. []

Louder Than Words

You always want to be the first one to say “I love you.”

When you say it because someone has just said it to you, you run the risk of sounding false.

You know how it goes…

“I love you,” says Person One.

“I love you, too,” says Person Two, in response.

If you’re Number Two, most likely you do mean it.  Why else would you say it?  But even so, no matter how much you mean it, no matter how much you feel it, if you weren’t the one who spit it out first, you most likely said it at that moment because you felt you should.

It’s like the time I went to a Catholic wedding and printed on the program were responses to what the priest was babbling on about.1  The Priest would “domino, domino, domino,”2 and I, like the rest of the guests, would “domino, domino, domino” back, in response.

Why? Because it’s just what you do.  But, I’m not so sure my “dominos” sounded for real.

This all comes about because a friend noted that in my post about New Year’s Eve, I didn’t write that I returned the favor when the Attorney said he loved me.

Truth is, I didn’t.  I didn’t write it because I didn’t say it back.  Partially because I didn’t want to give the stock response, but mostly because I don’t have to say it.  (Neither does he, for that matter.)  He knows by my actions.

Like the time late last summer:

The Attorney was trying to get a stubborn burned-out light bulb out of a hard to reach socket.3  He couldn’t get enough leverage standing on his toes, so he took his shoes off to stand on an ottoman.  Well, it turns out the thing was really stuck and in trying to loosen it, he gripped it too hard and the bulb shattered, raining down shards of glass.

After the initial shock and the relief that nothing flew into his eyes while he was up there, he got down.  Without thinking, he was about to put on his shoes to protect his feet from the broken glass.  But, instinctively I stopped him and grabbed one of his shoes.


Without regard for my own safety, I shoved my hand into his shoe to feel around for glass.  Then almost immediately I froze.

I wasn’t cut, but as I looked at the Attorney dumbfounded, all I could think was, “What the fuck did I just do?”

He just grinned back.  “You love me.”

He knew.

He knew because I may risk getting my hands cut up for somebody, but I’m not gonna stick my hand inside just anybody’s big sweaty size-fourteen shoe.4

That’s real love.

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  1. I have no idea what it was because it was in Latin []
  2. my apologies to my Catholic readers, but it all sounded like “domino” to me. []
  3. even with his monkey arms. []
  4. Ya’ll know how I am about feet. []

Clear Blue Morning

My chest tightened. I could barely swallow. And suddenly my cheeks were warm with tears.

And it was just because Aretha was singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

I looked over at Granny.  She sat with her eyes closed.  Just listening.  I would give anything to be in her head at that moment.  Was she reliving her almost century-long history?  Was she imagining the future.  Or did she simply just enjoy Miss Franklin’s voice?

Whatever it was, she was at ease.

I took her hand in mine and just let it go.

Normally, I’m not a crier. I can probably count on both hands the number of times I have cried in my adult life.  But, now I can count on one finger the number of times I have cried and it felt good.

Oddly it all hit me before he even took the Oath.  Maybe it was just the emotional power if music.  Or maybe it was because I knew that at the stroke of noon (which fell in the middle of the song) the exchange of power officially occurred and the past had passed.

I’ve always been a believer in signs.  I’m taking it as a good one that the clouds parted to let the sun shine down on Washington earlier today.  It made me think of  a song by Dolly Parton called “Light of  A Clear Blue Morning.”  It finishes with the lyric:

“Everything’s gonna be alright.  Gonna be ok.”

For the first time in eight years I can lay my head down on my pillow tonight and actually believe it’s possible.  I may even actually sleep.

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What Counts

“Mommy, why is that man hugging that cab driver?”

That’s what I imagined the sleepy little girl, who up to that point had been mesmerized by the endless cycle of the luggage carousel, wanted to say when The Attorney gave me a big hug in the airport Wednesday evening.

It wasn’t like he flung himself on me with a girlish squeal.  It was a nice firm manly “acceptable-between-two-men-in-Tennessee” hug.  But children sense things. They can’t explain what it is, but they know.

Of course, the fact that I had been holding up a piece of paper with the Attorney’s name on it was probably the real source of her confusion.  It wasn’t so much why two men are hugging, but more why are two stranger’s hugging.1

The sign was a joke.  I’d felt a little silly standing there waiting with it against my chest, but I thought it would add to the moment.

The Attorney was arriving from Washington with his friend Jeff.2 He was expecting to ride back into town in Jeff’s car, so it was a surprise to see me at baggage claim.

I had made an effort to meet him that evening because a) I wanted to hear all about the Inauguration , b) I just wanted to see him, and c) the it was a sort of anniversary for us.

“That doesn’t count,” Jeff protested when we explained to him that January 19 had marked two years since The Attorney and I first went on a proper date.

“You have to go from the time you two made it ‘official,'” making air quotes with his fingers. “You have to count from there.”

From where?  What is the defining moment in a gay relationship?  There’s no standard to go by.

Would it be the time one of us first referred to the other as “boyfriend?”  Would it be when he gave me a key and alarm code to his home?  Would it be when he met Granny for the first time?  Would one of those moments count?

What if the defining moment hasn’t happened yet?  Does that mean we can’t celebrate yet? Will some big gay genie pop out when it does and let us know that it counts?  Is Jeff the big gay genie?

The way I see it, in January 2007 we took a first step.  And here we are, two years later, still walking together.

With no plans to stop.

Ultimately, that’s what really counts.

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  1. And why are they hugging for so long? []
  2. They had been at the Inauguration []

Burning Ears

I guess it’s not always a bad thing that people are talking about you.

The adorable Moby discussed referrals the other day on his blog. For those of you who do not blog, it’s the primary way that readers an find out about your blog. Mostly through blog rolls.  My old blog had been one of his main referrers1 and apparently this new blog is sending him a chunk of traffic, too.

I thought, “How can that be?”  I’m not even a month into this yet. And I kept my return fairly quiet. 2

So, I decided to check my stats and see who is sending traffic my way.  Turns out that Aussielicious is sending tons of traffic here. That’s not a big surprise. He was my top referrer by far on the old blog.

I’m not a stat whore like some bloggers.  The numbers don’t mean that much to me, but I am really fascinated by the way in which people get here.  The main way is directly 3 followed by referrals, and then search words.

Search words.  On the old blog folks were ending up on my site by Googling things like “big penis”, “hump day,” and “christopher meloni.”4 All of them things that I had mentioned in a post or two.5

But I discovered that there has been only one search term that has brought people here, and it’s done it quite often: “west of mayberry.”

Now, that’s not a common phrase like “big bulge” or “brittney’s loose underwear elastic.”6

Now, I don’t mean just the word “mayberry.”  I would make sense for someone to use just the single word while looking for something about, say,  vegetation or old TV shows.  But to use the entire phrase means they have heard it before.  Which means that someone has told them about it.  Which means somebody is talking about me.7

Now I know why my ears are burning.

And I’m enjoying the warmth.

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  1. people clicked to him through me. []
  2. just to see how it would go. []
  3. typing in the URL or having it booked marked []
  4. the number one search word other than the actual title of the blog []
  5. like “I want too hump Christopher Meloni with my big penis all day.”  []
  6. yes, that really was on the search word stats of the old blog. []
  7. how cool is that?! []

Another Wednesday

The Wednesday night dinners of my childhood were episodes of Fear Factor.

Generally my mama followed a fairly regular menu schedule.  Sundays were fried chicken. Monday was Sloppy Joes.  Tuesday, pork chops. Saturday was a mixed bag, it could have been about anything. Friday was a favorite, second only to Thursday night’s spaghetti, because it meant the drive-thru at Wendy’s.  But Wednesday was the worst: Salisbury steak.

The middle of every week would mean me sitting by twilight staring down a gray patty-shaped slab of compressed meat by-products1 that swam in a ketchupy pool of gelatinous goo.  The frozen food box indicated that the goo was gravy.  But, I was always of the feeling that gravy poured.

Where was Joe Rogan? Next to that, I probably would have welcomed Madagascar cockroaches and bison penis.

Wednesdays didn’t even give me the chance to appeal to my mother’s demands to clean my plate by wolfing down everything but the Salisbury steak2 because the main dish was always paired with the most evil of all vegetables: Brussels sprouts.

Did the good people of Salisbury and Brussels really eat these things?  Willingly? Or were Salisbury and Brussels actually prison camps?

“Some people would be happy to even have a meal,” my mother would say.

It was a one-two punch of guilt.  One shot for not being appreciative of food on the table and a second for not being appreciative of her efforts.

Despite the fact that, in this case, effort basically involved scraping freezer frost off the oven-safe cardboard top before tossing the disposable aluminum pan into a 350 degree oven, it worked.   Any son of the South will tell you that his mother can not be denied.  And so, I ate.

But as my belly was filled with chunks of barely-chewed “meat,”3 I was fed a sense that there are things in life you are blessed to have available.  You may not always like them, but you simply have to swallow them.

I was reminded of that last week after telling my boss that I wanted out of my job.

For those of you who are new or don’t remember from the old blog, back in September I started a new job.  I’m with the same company, just in a completely new position.  After about ten years working as a painter with a contractor, I was moved into that same contractor’s office doing planning and management duties.

The thing is, in and of itself, it is a pretty good job.  It’s just not a good job for me.  I’m good at the planning aspects, but it also involves a lot of dealing with people 4  and that’s just not me.  It’s a job for somebody who is more personable and dynamic.

I wanted to go back to painting.  Where I enjoyed the solitude. Where I know that I am good.

He wasn’t happy.  You see, while I knew that the position did not exist before, what I did not know was that he had restructured the duties of others around the office to create it.  And he had created it with me in mind.

That’s way more than scraping the frost off the lid.

I left his office that day with the agreement that I would think about it for a few days and if in a week I still wanted to quit, he would understand.

It didn’t take a week.  More like eighteen hours or so.

It took me that long to become ashamed of myself.

I realized the job it’s simply another Wednesday night dinner.  Every day more and more people are having their meals taken away from them. Who am I to toss mine in the trash?

I have swallowed many a Wednesday night dinner in my life, and I will do it again.

Who knows? As I mature I might even develop a taste for it.

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  1. complete with imprinted “grill” marks []
  2. and then faking fullness []
  3. I swallowed it as quickly as I could to keep from tasting it.  It’s a wonder my bowels weren’t locked up well into adulthood. []
  4. clients, other contractors, suppliers, crews, etc. []