THE EPIC ADVENTURES OF A GIANT GREAT WILLIE
(A LYRIC ESSAY PENNED ON A BARF BAG DURING THE FLIGHT FROM HELL)
Tawni Vee Waters
In what world is it ok to write a crossword puzzle clue that reads “Giant great Wille”? I swear to God, I’m not making this shit up. Fact check me. U.S. Airways Magazine, April issue, 2013, page 150, 8-down. It’s a four letter word. Now you tell me what words pop into your head when given that clue. Yeah, me too.
That clue was the final straw for me, that and the fact that the only other answer I’d gotten on the puzzle was “lady of pop.” (Gaga.) I’m usually fairly good at crossword puzzles, but this one was making me feel like I belonged on the set of Deliverance, leaning up against a flagging single-wide, a naked, disheveled baby on my hip and a warm Pabst Blue Ribbon in my hand, shouting, “Shoot ‘em good, Earl,” to my common-law husband, who was standing just feet away, wearing a stained wife-beater, gunning down rusty soup cans. In short, I gave up because when “Giant great Willie” made me think “cock,” I felt illiterate.
I still feel illiterate. I still have no idea what those assholes were thinking of when they penned that clue. Were they trying to force me to produce raw, uncultured thoughts just when I needed, really needed, to prove I was intelligent and cultured? Were they trying to force me to throw up my hands in defeat and pen an essay on a barf bag?
Yes, I am writing this column on a barf bag. As a side note, I’m quickly running out of space. I want to lean over and ask the woman next to me if I might borrow her barf bag, but she already clearly thinks I’m nuts, and I’m afraid asking for her barf bag might contribute to that impression.
I digress. Or progress. I am without a doubt doing some kind of gressing. Let me gress a big more.
This whole thing started days ago, in Phoenix, when I packed my lime green suitcase with breast-enhancing garments so I could fly across the country to see this kick-ass band called Sons of Bill, who have become, in recent months, my personal crack. During the week, I am a writer and a creative writing teacher. On weekends, I am a groupie. And wouldn’t have it any other way.
I flew to Atlanta to see them. That’s a four-hour flight, give or take some wind resistance, so I planned ahead and packed my computer, in order to work on some novel revisions my agent has requested, along with two books. One of them was David Sedaris’s Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. The other was William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, because the lead singer of Sons of Bill is a Faulkner expert, and I don’t want to look like an asshole when we start talking Faulkner over bourbon after the concerts, which we invariably do. I’m pretty sure I usually end up looking like any asshole anyway because the boy is brilliant and beautiful, and as soon as he starts talking, a fuse blows in my brain.
“I think Quentin represents the quintessential artist, the existential quandary he faces when he realizes the world around him is essentially flawed and attempts to impose the exquisite world that lives inside him on the world at large,” he says, sipping his bourbon thoughtfully, and I say something equally deep, like, “Wow. Just fucking wow.”
I’ve thought about implementing an old trick I use in just these sorts of situations, a trick I have dubbed the “profound nod,” which means that, when confronted with a blank space in a conversation during which you know you are expected to say something brilliant, and only “fucking wow,” comes to mind, you nod slowly and profoundly, your brow creased in a way that indicates that you are thinking thoughts too deep for human utterance. The problem is that when I get to these profound Faulkner conversations with James (I’ll call the lead singer James because, well, that’s his name), I have usually consumed several alcoholic beverages (several = 2 to 12) during the show, and am adding to those by drinking bourbon with him. Not to mention he’s really pretty, and he makes me nervous. So my mind is mush.
To be fair, his drinking for the evening has usually been on par with mine. But that doesn’t seem to affect his profundity much. Mine is affected profoundly, so profoundly that I can’t even seem to remember to nod profoundly in lieu of spewing things like, “Wow,” and “totally awesome.” Nevertheless, Sons of Bill shows, or at least the conversations following them, have become sort of like literary pop quizzes for me, and even though I have reread my entire Faulkner catalogue, slowly, carefully, in hopes of passing one of them someday, I continually seem to fail. “F-,” James must be thinking as he stalks away to get more bourbon. “Seriously? This girl has a Master’s Degree? What the hell has become of American education?”
The point of all that was to say that somehow, on my way to the airport, Faulkner leapt out of my purse, leaving me with only David Sedaris for company on my rock-n-roll pilgrimage/ pop-quiz extravaganza. Which isn’t a bad thing. Sedaris is fucking hilarious. That can be a problem, however, when you are reading the book alone in a bar, pre-show, cloistered in a dark corner, chortling uncontrollably at random intervals. As always, this weekend, I was the cool kid at the rock show. Had Faulkner been with me, he might have elicited the sort of somber response required of a girl sitting alone in a corner before a rock-show. He might have helped me to look just a tad bit less asshole-ish. But Sedaris? Not a chance. I was the maniacal laughing girl alone in the corner. So thanks for that, Dave.
And then, several days of bourbon sodden rock-n-roll ensued, meaning I danced badly until I thought my heart might explode while looking up at James thinking “Dear God in heaven, is it really fair for anything to be that pretty?”, drove long distances listening to terrible country music, cried because Lee Ann Womack hoped I danced (I did!), slept in my car one night, slept in shitty motels two others, fell in love with several sunsets, the nuances of each making them distinct entities unto themselves (one of them included lavender, which is a hue rarely seen in a sunset), and yes, thank God in heaven, talked and talked to Faulkner boy, who mercifully did not see fit to quiz me on the intricacies of As I Lay Dying, but instead, spoke in hushed tones of the pain of living, which made me want to cry again, ala “I Hope You Dance.” He did reference T.S. Eliot, but only once, and I think I did o.k. because I know Eliot backward and forward. Yes, I threw out the overused “measuring your days in coffee spoons” bit, but at least I said something besides, “fucking wow, just wow.” All in all, it was a successful rock-n-roll pilgrimage.
After all that, I got onto a plane, and I wanted, really wanted to revise my novel for my agent (I swear I did, Andy), but my computer died, and then, I was left with no other option but to read the rest of the David Sedaris book, which I did, snortingly. (Sometimes I snort when I laugh.) The lady sitting next to me kept looking at me like I was the carrier of some unspecified but deadly skin disease, and trying to scoot away from me, as if that were possible in these cramped quarters. I mean, we were in coach class on an airplane, for God’s sake, and I’m just gonna say it. The girl wasn’t svelte. Which I probably wouldn’t point out except she kept looking at me like I was possessed by Satan, and frankly, it was hurtful. So finally, I finished my book.
There were two hours left in the flight, and I had nothing, nothing, to do. I glanced over at the non-svelte lady’s computer screen, and ladies and gentlemen, she was watching the finale of The Walking Dead. Now, I normally deplore violence and gore on principle, but for reasons I cannot begin to fathom, I have become obsessed with that show, even though I usually cover my eyes during at least nine-tenths of it. I had managed to catch the finale in my shitty motel room the night before, but I was quite sure I had missed some of the finer nuances of the action, as the television I watched it on was the size of a toaster, so I leaned in gently, subtly, trying to enjoy the show over my seat mate’s shoulder. She cast me a glare that indicated she did not want to share (Jesus Christ, woman, didn’t you ever watch Barney?), and that if I kept it up, she was going to press her call button and summon a flight attendant.
Chastened, I looked away. One can only stare at the back of the seat in front of her for so long before she gets bored, though, and since Walking Dead finales were clearly not an option, I looked at the book of the man on the other side of me. I was immediately captivated. Something about inner peace and calm at the center of the storm, which is right up my spiritual alley. I was hooked. So I leaned in toward him, but this asshole clearly had not absorbed the message of his reading material because he actually looked at me and said, “Do you mind?”
Well, excuse the fuck out of me for trying to get enlightened. Time for a bathroom break. A long bathroom break. I lurched down the aisle, pitching this way and that, thanks to turbulence, finally inevitably lurching into the gross guy waiting outside the bathroom door. He caught me, tenderly, and glanced at my breasts. “Just stretching my legs,” he said. Like I cared.
Finally, that little sign went from “occupied” to “unoccupied,” and I was allotted, for a few precious moments, a two-by-two square of serenity. I peed, of course, and the toilet made that terrible flushing noise airplane toilets make, like Satan is living in the plane’s hull and is attempting to suck your soul down through the toilet bowl, and then I washed my hands. Three times. Then, I thought about leaving, and remembered that the people sitting on either side of me thought I was a crackpot.
Now, don’t judge me for this, but I decided it was as good a time as any to “freshen up.” So I washed my armpits, and then, I pulled my pants back down, used the toilet as a stepping stool, and sat on that little sink. Don’t ever let anyone tell you washing your hoo-hoo on a plane is easy, because it’s not. First of all, the water only comes on when you are actually pressing the water lever, but it’s hard to press the water lever and scrub all at the same time, especially because the water levers are behind you. So is the soap. Plus, the plane is lurching, and finally, you fall off the sink, and someone pounds on the door and says, “Everything ok in there?”
“No,” you want to scream, “everything is not ok. I am trying to wash my hoo-hoo in a two-by-two bathroom so I don’t have to face the derision of my fellow passengers,” but that seems inappropriate, so you say, “Yeah,” and yank up your jeans.
When you return to your seat, your fellow passengers exchange glances, a secret code they have established during your absence, saying, “Oh, great. The crazy bitch is back.” You sit between them and decide that you will show them that you are not, in fact, a freak. Yes, you are wearing breast enhancing garments, and yes, you laughed maniacally through the first half of the ride and tried to hone in on their various forms of entertainment during the second, but you are actually an educated, cultured woman. You have degrees. TWO of them. A 4.0 grade point average. You graduated with distinction, for God’s sake. You publish regularly. You have a poetry book coming out this year. You have an agent for your novel. You teach college. You are SMART, goddammit. And you are going to prove this to them, come hell or high water.
And as you think this, the airline magazine leaps out at you from the place where it is nestled in the seat pocket in front of you, and it almost sings, the way the angels do in old movies when divine intervention is present. These things have crossword puzzles, and you are good at crossword puzzles. Really freaking good. Because you are a literary scholar.
You yank it from its pocket, giving each of your fellow passengers a swift, meaningful glare as you do. And then you flip through the magazine until you find the crossword puzzle. Whip out your pen. Stare at it. Read the clues. Nothing, nothing comes to mind. Except wait, yes, “lady of pop.” Gaga, damn it. Lady Freaking Gaga, bitches. And then, you search some more, and you read “Giant great Willie.” And all you can think is “cock.” And you slam the magazine shut, trying not to cry.
And that, my friends, is how I ended up writing a freaking column on a barf bag. And some rental car receipts. And a Sons of Bill ticket, which made me think of bourbon Faulkner boy, which reminds me. I need to go read Absalom, Absalom! There may be a pop quiz next week.
P.S. If you know the answer to “Giant great Willie,” do not email it to me unless you want to be pistol whipped.