“Musings of a West Coast Transplant”
by Randi Franklin
One of the many problems with pairing an individual such as myself with a locale such as West Virginia is the sheer abundance of things to be stared at. I do not have the ability to look away once something with the potential to be mocked has presented itself. This deep interest in the shortcomings of humanity also makes it impossible for me to interact with others while in the presence of the unusual, horrifying, or freakish. As a result, I only came to know a few individuals in my time there; namely, those people I saw at our home or theirs.
Those who dared to take me out in public could forget about any kind of conversation, as I was too busy gawking at the skanky teenager juggling a cross-eyed infant with a concave skull and a pack of cigarettes to do more than nod or reply to questions with a halfhearted, “uh huh.”
I blame my staring problem on genetics. Waiting in line at the airport in Frankfurt, my mother once became so enthralled in someone else’s conversation that she was actually leaning forward and nodding assent with key points. My sister had to forcefully elbow her and wave a travel brochure in front of our mother’s face to bring her out of the trance. The amazing part was that the people were speaking German, which my mother does not understand. At all.
While my interest is generally sparked by eavesdropping on conversations carried out in English, it being the only language I speak, the going into a sort of trance while staring is also a problem I struggle with. I routinely have to be shaken, or have a pitcher of ice water thrown in my face to get me to stop staring while I am in restaurants. Once, in Charleston, South Carolina, I spent the entire course of a meal with my head turned at an unnatural angle and my eyes rolled into the back of my head trying to covertly observe the diners at the next table over. Two of the three were foreigners, so I could only make out bits and pieces of the conversation. From what I gathered, it seemed that the foreigners had been given the American’s number by a friend of a friend and were now being duped into buying her meals and routinely giving her piles of their newly exchanged US Dollars in exchange for the pleasure of her company. I would have gladly ordered a second meal, and a third, in order to get in more observation time. I probably also would have followed them around town for the rest of the afternoon as they went sightseeing, possibly snapping pictures with my camera phone. Fortunately for the unsuspecting tourists, they were spared a stalker as I was eventually hauled out of the restaurant by my then-fiance. I spent the rest of the afternoon developing possible scenarios regarding the trio and running them by the fiance for approval. The people in question weren’t even that unusual-looking. What really short-circuits my social skills are the sorts of crowds that can be found at fairs, carnivals, and Wal-Mart. Charleston has an annual regatta, which used to be a week of festivities centered around paddle boat races on the river. This wholesome southern tradition, which I imagine once required the wearing of big hats and sipping of mint juleps has now degenerated into a cesspool of horror.
One Saturday night, we headed downtown to join the crowds in watching a free Puddle of Mudd concert on the street. Not being a music connoisseur, all I can tell you about this musical group is that their music is loud. If you were to buy a CD of theirs, it would most likely have one of those little stickers on the front that says, “Explicit language.” Apparently citizens of Kanawha County mistook the Puddle of Mudd concert posters for a Teletubbies appearance announcement, because at least half the crowd had brought the little ones with for a night of old-fashioned family fun.
The air downtown was thick with the stench of cigarette smoke, unwashed mullets, and sweating fat rolls. Most of the cigarette smoke was being produced by proud new mothers out for a night on the town with their infants. There were so many milling around that they all blurred into one image in my shell-shocked frame of vision. Thick black eyeliner, over-plucked brows, vegetable-deprived pasty white skin, and cheap sequined halter tops were in abundance. Many used the drink holder in the handle of their stroller to hold their cigarettes and lighter; others used it to hold their can of Natural Ice, occasionally pouring some into their babies’ bottles to keep them quiet. The crowd was so thick that the babies’ heads were lolling about and snapping back and forth alarmingly as their strollers were rammed into other concert-goers’ shins while the teen mothers trolled for possible hook-ups. The fronts of the babies, adorable summer outfits were flecked with cigarette ash and funnel cake crumbs.
The thing that is most unfair about these sorts of events is that someone I have just met inevitably poses the question, “So, how do you like West Virginia?” Expecting me to even hear anything they say, let alone come up with a socially acceptable response, such as, “Oh, thank you for asking. It’s lovely this time of year. I’m really enjoying exploring the cultural differences. Say, what would you call that mullet over there-a Kentucky Waterfall or a Squirrel Pelt?” is completely ludicrous. The unfortunate individual attempting to engage me in friendly conversation usually has to repeat themselves at least four times to be rewarded with an unintelligible gurgling noise from me as I gawk at the seven urchin children that are weaving through the crowd, each squirting Cheez Whiz into his or her dirt-crusted mouth as they follow their intoxicated baby momma to the corn dog stand.
Since the writing of this piece, the author has been safely relocated to a more habitable location.
by Katie Hackmeister
Itâ€™s two in the afternoon. I wake up to my phone ringing incessantly. My friend, Cayden, is desperate for someone to go to Ikea with him. He needs to buy a couch as well as another body to help drag the couch from Ikea to a minivan to his apartment. Since I enjoy buying poorly constructed furniture and household accessories, I agree to go.
While I wait for him to pick me up, I wander through my local Borders and ask myself why Nichole Ritchie wrote a book. Cayden calls again. He tells me to go back to my apartment to gather some CDs. The vanâ€™s radio had ceased to function. I run home, grab a few burned CDs that I recently acquired by bribing friends with treats (candy or CornNuts or pornography usually), along with a few CDs I legimately bought and jump into his borrowed Fag Wagon.
As we speed down Diversey to the expressway, Cayden and I discuss Chicago versus Los Angeles driving. We both agree that driving in Chicago is worse, due to the abundance of pedestrians and as Cayden racially slurs, â€œWhatâ€™s this Asian bitch in the Honda doing?!?â€ While Cayden thanks someone for flipping him off, I discover that the minivanâ€™s CD player refuses to play burned CDs. Our music choice dwindles down to three albums from ten albums for the next hour and half weâ€™re going to spend in rush hour traffic. General Motors thwarts my CD stealing scheme.
As we inch along 94, Cayden continues to bitch about traffic and yells at the Blue Line for speeding past us. To appease him, I pop in Madonnaâ€™sÂ ConfessionsÂ which seems to calm his homosexual nerves. Our conversation covers a range of important topics.Â From the difference of dating or seeing someone and if heâ€™d still be friends with me if I substituted the word dating with, â€œWeâ€™re going steady!â€ (he wouldnâ€™t), to whether the pickup covered in Harley stickers in front of us contains a retired Pabst drinker with a mustache (it did) and I muse that if I were to have a gay child, it wouldnâ€™t be a gay son, which I would hope for, but a butch lesbian daughter, since I have a problem with aggressive butch lesbians (I fear them). We drive through Rosemont and see a glowing sign that says OUTBACK STEAK HOUSE. Cayden gushes about how much he loves that restaurant. I reply with, â€œUgh. Gross.â€ Even though my stomach is growling from not eating the past 14 hours and Iâ€™m hung-over, I canâ€™t fathom gnawing on a grisle-tainted steak from Outback.
We canâ€™t find Ikea, which leads to multiple illegal U-turns. I mention this well-known fact to my friend. Cayden merely shrugs, â€œHope that cop didnâ€™t see me.â€ We make it to Ikea, which leads to over two hours of Cayden lying down on sofas, flipping through fabric samples to match the color theme in his Gold Coast apartment and flagging down a plethora of Ikea employees. I escape and find the items I came for: pillows for my couch and a CD rack that will surely topple over one night when I stumble through my pitch dark apartment trying to find the light switch, destroying all of my CDs.Â I should buy an Ipod. I return to Cayden standing in front of a couch, chin to hand in deep thought with multiple throw pillows in various colors scattered over the couch. After finally persuading him with my knowledge of design gained from community college art courses to go with the brownish-purple couch, steel grey pillows and the threat, â€œIâ€™m going to start dry heaving if I donâ€™t eat soonâ€, we begin collecting his various pieces of furniture, as I slump over a cart, weak from hunger and gin.
We doubt that we could fit the couch in the van and I suggest he pay the extra 40 bucks for delivery. But at the check-out we discover the delivery charge is 90 bucks. I stay with our items as Cayden goes back for the sofa. After eyeballing the Swedish Food Market for a moment, I break down and buy Swedish candy. I buy Jelly Rats, a jelly-ish candy in the shape of rats because it makes me laugh. They taste what youâ€™d imagine candy rats from Sweden to taste like: Swedish shit.
Cayden, with hat askew and sweat-beaded temples, comes back struggling with the couch. I feel like an asshole and run to help. He verbalizes my thoughts with a dry, â€œYeah.â€ We manage to cram everything into the van and decide to totally surburbize our day by dining at Outback. I would have eaten a corpse at that point. Again, we canâ€™t find the expressway, which leads to me wandering through the Schaumberg Renaissance hotel for 15 minutes trying to find someone to ask directions. That place is a goddamn mausoleum, but richly pretty.
We make it to the highway, see the Outback sign in Rosemont, cheer, get lost again, bitch, find the restaurant, cheer again, and finally park the car. We saw through a three-course meal in thirty minutes. After eating, we sit there and reflect on the day. I suck on an iced tea, smoking a cigarette and say, â€œYou know, this wasnâ€™t a bad day. We bought some shit, ate dinner and now weâ€™re going to Dog Bar.â€ Dog Bar is a hole in the wall our friend Jeff found in Bucktown. Actually called the Corner Bar, we dubbed it Dog Bar because itâ€™s always full of dogs from the neighborhood barflies (and because we think weâ€™re original). We love Dog Bar because of an older bartender named Ruthie, whom we refer to as Ruthless (original!), four dollar pitchers of Honey Brown and two dollar shots of Beam. Ruthie also has no qualms about pouring our beers into plastic cups and telling us to have a good night. Then we pile into a car with our to-go beers. Because weâ€™re smart. And original.
After dinner, Cayden and I climb into the van and pull out of the parking lot. We hear a weird sound and look at each other terrified. â€œIs that a flat tire?â€ he asks me with wide eyes. In complete denial, I calmly scream, â€œNo! No, it isnâ€™t! Keep driving!â€ He gets out, goes to the front right tire, and covers his face with his hands. I roll down the window, â€œSo itâ€™s okay, right?â€ He shakes his head. The tire is completely flat. He gets back in and decides to drive until we find a gas station to fill the tire up. We drive five mph, most likely bending the axle, or whatever the fuck holds a tire, in the process until we find a Jiffy Lube. We pull into the back parking lot, hoping to find an air pump. Nope.
We get out and Cayden calls his friend who owns the Fag Wagon, referred to as iKevin because heâ€™s Indian and gay. On Halloween, iKevin came out with us dressed in only teeny tiny white shorts, gold boots and angel wings. As Cayden explains the situation to iKevin, I overhear iKevin respond with a long pause and, â€œAre you serious?â€Â Which is the standard response from effeminate males and teenage girls when disaster strikes anywhere in the Northwest suburbs.
Since God hates me, iKevin and his Chrysler donâ€™t have roadside assistance.Â Cayden looks at me and says, â€œKnow how to change to change a tire?â€ I reply, â€œNope. But my dad does.â€ I call my father and ask him to give me instructions on how to change a tire. Which leads to a long explanation as to why I need to change a tire as my mother in the background completely panics, assuming Iâ€™m going to precariously jack a car up three feet in the air and dive under it, only to have two tons of metal and leather seating come crashing down onto me. Iâ€™ve seen my brothers and dad change tires enough to
know what to do. So Cayden and I grin and decide to get dirty. This should be easy.
Turns out, you need upper body strength to loosen lug nuts. Iâ€™m as weak as a kitten. In high school and college, I worked out on a regular basis. Now I suffer through an occasional Bikram Yoga class, where the temperature of the room is 105 degrees. The only health aspect I can deduce from these classes is sweating out the toxins I ingest on a nightly basis. Basically, I am utterly useless.
The vanâ€™s spare tire is kept underneath the car. We spend over an hour, AN HOUR, in the rain, attempting to get that free. My dad keeps calling in the meantime, repeating instructions: â€œOkay, make sure youâ€™re on level ground, the parking brake is on, and block the opposite rear tire so the car doesnâ€™t roll over you.â€ â€œDad, we still canâ€™t get the spare tire out.â€ â€œWhat? What do you mean?â€ â€œThereâ€™s this cable thing holding it, with this plastic-metal thingy and we canâ€™t figure out to get it through the center of the tire to free the tire.â€ â€œâ€¦..â€ â€œDad? How do we do this?!?â€ â€œI. Donâ€™t. Understand.â€ â€œâ€¦â€¦â€Â â€œKatie?â€ â€œI canâ€™t explain SHIT!â€ click! â€œKatie? Mary Ann, she hung up on me!â€
Completely frustrated and covered in grease, Cayden and I stop and smoke. He tells me that weâ€™ll figure this out without our parents; weâ€™ll ask our friends for help. Jeff calls. â€œHey, Iâ€™m done with work. What time are we going to Dog Bar?â€ â€œWell, Cayden and I currently stuck in Rosemont trying to change a tire.â€ â€œShit. Really?â€ â€œYeah, we canâ€™t even get the spare tire off, itâ€™s raining, weâ€™re totally screwed, I hate Ikea, and Iâ€™m losing my mind!â€ â€œOh. So should Rachel and I go to Dog Bar and wait for you guys or what?â€ click! â€œHello? I think she hung up on me.â€
I stare at the ground, thinking that Cayden and I are going to have to permanently relocate to Rosemont, when plop! Caydenâ€™s grinning and rolling the spare tire free. I squeal like a sorority sister, clap and jump up and down. Again, completely useless. As Cayden rolls the tire to the front of the car, he proclaims, â€œWho knew! A gay and a girl change a tire!â€ I grab a cement block, block off the rear opposite tire, put the parking brake on, and turn the flat tire so itâ€™s level. Cayden grabs the jack and starts to loosen the lug nuts. And tries to loosen the lug nuts. And tries to loosen the lug nuts. Theyâ€™re not moving. I call my dad. â€œHello?â€ He sounds dejected. Heâ€™s sensitive from the hang up and is now cranky. I tell him our progress and ask how exactly to loosen the lug nuts. He tells me not to jack the car up yet, because we need to loosen the lug nuts and to do so, we may have to jump up and down on the wrench. â€œIâ€™ve had to do that.â€ I remember
childhood memories of my red-headed frustrated father jumping on wrenches. I laugh and then I stop. My dadâ€™s fairly strong. If Iâ€™m a weak kitten, Caydenâ€™s a drugged puma. This does not bode well. I hang up and put the wrench parallel on the lug nut and try to loosen as instructed. It will not budge. So I put all 5â€™7 and 140 pounds on the wrench and stand on it. Then I jump. Nothing. Useless. Cayden tries the same method. One moves.Â Yay! Then we try the next one. And we take turns trying. Itâ€™s not moving. We look at the wrench. We stripped it- and the lug nut. We look at one another and he sighs. â€œNow what?â€ I say, â€œForget it. Letâ€™s call the po-lice.â€
With lowered head, Cayden goes across the street to the local Hooters to get the non emergency number for the Rosemont police. I yell, â€œGet me some wings!â€ He doesnâ€™t laugh. I try to loosen the lug nuts. After five minutes, I give up, sit down and smoke my last cigarette. Cayden comes back. â€œI have to flag down a cop car because the idiot in Hooters gave me the wrong address! Stupid Hooters!â€ I look at his hand. â€œWhy do you have a carry-out menu?â€ He declines to answer and walks back to the front of the Jiffy Lube weâ€™re parked behind to flag down a cop car. A cop car pulls up as Cayden walks back. It suddenly occurs to me to hope that iKevin doesnâ€™t keep any drugs in his car as Cayden says, â€œThis looks totally shady that weâ€™re parked behind this Jiffy Lube.â€
The cop gets out and doesnâ€™t look happy. Cayden chatters away to him as I stand sullenly next to the car. For whatever reason, cops make me nervous; I think Iâ€™m just naturally guilty. The cop hands Cayden a jack and flashes his flashlight inside the car and the neighboring bush. Iâ€™m suddenly aware that my hands are in my pockets and slowly pull them out hoping he doesnâ€™t think Iâ€™m pulling out a weapon. I nervously crack my knuckles as sweat beads on my forehead and smile in his direction. I see him nod to his partner, whoâ€™s on the radio. Five bucks says they were calling in the license plate number. After a few minutes of watching Cayden struggle, the cop goes to his trunk and comes back with a cross bar wrench and hands it to my gay friend. This does the trick.Â The lug nuts pop off with ease. The cop finally decides weâ€™re not high on crank and talks to us while offering assistance. Cayden tells him, â€œI was telling Katie that it probably
seemed really shady we were behind this Jiffy Lube.â€ The cop laughs and says, â€œYeah, thatâ€™s what I told my partner.â€ We all share a laugh. Isnâ€™t that beautiful. My sweat is slowly evaporating. Cayden continues to struggle with the tire as the cop looks at me above his head, looks at Cayden, and smiles at me. It dawns on me he probably thinks we are a couple who just spent the day shopping for a sofa and ran into some bad luck. I almost say, â€œOh, no, sir, heâ€™s gay. The last time he saw pussy was back in high school.Â Silly homosexuals.â€ But I donâ€™t.
Finally, the tire is changed and weâ€™re on our way back to the city. We agree to meet Jeff and Rachel at Jakeâ€™s to drink, so I can change out of my greased stained clothing and not miss last call. We still have to move the couch into his apartment at 12:30 in the morning. Again, useless. I drop the sofa multiple times. I scream, â€œIâ€™m going to do whiskey shots until my liver liquefies! Fuck this day!â€
Driving to the north side, to liquify our livers, the tire makes wobbly noises. The lug nuts have come loose. So, if you were on Stockton Avenue, just south of Fullerton at one oâ€™clock in the morning, November 15, 2006, you would have seen me, soaking wet and whimpering softly, tightening lug nuts on a Chrysler minivan, throwing my entire body weight into the process making sure those motherfuckers didnâ€™t budge a goddamned millimeter. Worried, Cayden asks, â€œUm, do you need help?â€ My head lurches up to the window, â€œNo! Iâ€™m fine!â€ I throw the jack into the back, slump into the passenger seat, take Christâ€™s name in vain a few more times and we drive to Jakeâ€™s Pub, which is followed by three more hours at Yak-zees, where I put some â€œsweet tunesâ€ on the jukebox that make my friends say, â€œOh, good song. Nice, Hackmeister. Nice.â€ Finally, helpful. But, fuck, useless.