May 9, 2006

Conference Confidential

I was silent all weekend because I was at a conference in Monroeville, Alabama, which is pretty much Mecca for southern scribes. Harper Lee and Truman Capote grew up there, side by side. Harper Lee still lives in Monroeville in the winters. She is in New York right now which, on the one hand, I was sad because I have always secretly hoped that one day i would meet her. Not that I would have expected to see her at a literary conference, but I MIGHT have run into her while walking through Piggley Wiggley with someone from town who knew her. See? ALL CASUAL AND ACCIDENTAL, arranged and ordained by The Lord. But there was no chance of it. I took comfort in the idea that there was ALSO no chance I would hear anyone say, "Joshilyn, this is Nell Harper L----oh my. It's okay, the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser can take those stains right off," as I puked on her shoes out of sheer nerves. SO. How's THAT for a bright side?

The house Harper Lee grew up in is now a BURGER STAND called MEL's that sells DREAM CONES (!!!!). Alas, Karen and I did not ever stop and GET a DREAM CONE. I wonder what on earth it is? I bet it's just fancy talk for that puffy-airy styrofoam-infused ice cream like you get at DQ. I hope not, though. I hope it's something SHERBET-Y or creamsicle-ish, striped orange and white and chock full of opiates. I hope those who pause to eat of it are like Lotus People: They wake up three weeks later, having seen The Future and The Truth, but they are not quiiiiiiiiiiiite able to express how it was, exactly. You can ask, and one will say, "Well...THE FUTURE was like a great glowing metaphorical lynx, but made of prisms and refracting into a thousand points of rainbows, but not really, and then it diffused into bands that leapt out and touched my face so that my eyes caught fire, but I kinda liked it." And then the other says, "No, it was not. That was The Truth. The Future was that OTHER thing."

Yeah. I know. The actual DREAM CONE was bound to disappoint. We went past the place at least four times, but each time, I kept driving.

We got out of the car encrusted with the filth of a thousand miles (even though we had technically only driven 180 miles, Karen and I are so naturally VILE that we were ABLE to accumulate the ACTUAL FILTH of 1000 miles in 1/5th of the time it would have taken, say, some young mission workers.) Tom Franklin was sitting out in the lobby and he said HEY to me. I looked like the very wrath of God so I half waved and galloped past him. I dived into my hotel room, hoping to SCRAPE some filth off before having an actual conversation with a writer I admire. Then I kept realizing I had left invaluable filth-scraping materials like my SOAP and my HAIRBRUSH in the car. I headed back out, and I still looked like mucusy bile and he was still in the lobby. I was incapable of bringing everything I needed in. THREE TIMES I made the journey, each time half waving as if I thought he had leprosy, but really, I just didn't want him to look directly at me and go BLIND from horror. He was very nice about it, later, when I appeared coifed and smelling faintly of roses, and we both pretended like he had never seen me with threads of Processed Cheese Food entwined within the greasy locks of my Car Hair.

The first night, Karen and I stayed up until about 3 am drinking pomegranate martinis (because they are chock full of antioxidants and other highly nutritive goodnesses! The fact that they are 192 proof is not relevant.) The very talented Cathy Day was there, and she told us that MARASCHINO CHERRIES stay with you. EVERY maraschino cherry. They... ADHERE to your intestines? They CLING? They SEDENTATE? little intestine pockets for themselves and button themselves in? Something very permanent, so that you even now are carrying with you every maraschino cherry you ever plucked whole from your sunday's whipped cream or excavated from your cocktail ice. Can you IMAGINE how many they found when they autopsied Elvis?

I wish I could remember exactly how the cherries imbed themselves. It was very scientific when CATHY said it, I am sure, but remembered through the rosy haze of, um, antioxidants, I have lost some essential details, I feel certain. Like, where do the cherries get the buttons? Also, there was something about Maraschino Cherries being made OUTSIDE in huge vats and if birds fly over and poo in the vats (and they DO!) and if older birds fall dead and plummet out of the skies and LAND in the cherries (AND THEY DO!) or if intrepid possums are drawn to the sweet smell of preserving cherries and mount an expedition to CLIMB the cherry vats and LICK UP SYRUP with their long POSSUM-SUCK COVERED TONGUES (and you KNOW! You KNOW!!! they do!) then the cherry makers shrug and say, "So it goes," because I guess a little dead bird never hurt anyone, eh? A little possum suck adds protein. Why not.

We all listened to her very earnestly and then fished around in our martinis and pulled out the cherries and ate them, because as Karen pointed out, with an alcohol content as high as is oftentimes found in the drinks *I* make, the cherries had been thoroughly sterilized.

This was in Suzanne Hudson (who KILLED at her reading KILLED!) and Joe Formichella's hotel room, the default party room for both conferences I have been to where the Fairhope Posse was in attendance. Tom Franklin was there. Tom left the next day, EARLY, and Karen and I had not yet gotten our books signed! WAIL! He had to go get therapy though, I betcha, to recover from seeing us in all our glorious filth. And of course Sonny Brewer was there. And the awesome Rick Bass. And there we also met Warren St. John, the staff writer for The New York Times who wrote that story on Sonny I linked you to earlier. He's got a book out now called Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer which Jake at the Alabama BookSmith (a fave indie store of mine) has tried all his wiles to get me to buy---Jake swears by this book.

I avoided those wiles for a YEAR (not easy, Jake is a supah-charged-bookseller from the way back back and he haz vays of makink yew READ) because FIRST OF ALL it's non-fic (I rarely crack NF unless it's pretty dern PLOTTY, like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, say) AND I thought it was about football, and all I really know about football is that it is one o' them things the boys call "a sports." BUT After hearing Warren talk at the conference, I realized it was NOT actually about football. It's about FANDOM, and, speaking as a girl who is afraid to meet Harper Lee lest I puke on her shoes, that's something that interests me, so I got one that I SAID was a gift but I started reading it accidentally andd now I want to keep it. HEY! Did you know Bama fans SOAK maraschino cherries in PURE GRAIN alcohol for YEARS and eat them by the fistful. They are called BAMA BOMBS because they are RED like the TIDE. Dude. You have to kinda RESPECT that kind of fandom, you know? The kind that bravely says, "Sterilized possum suck shall not deter us, OH NO, we will eat the diseased bird carcass encrusted colors of our team and carry them with us, intestine-ly speaking, FOREVER...."

And that was only night one. Day two, which followed, was moderately painful, in that the SUN came up and TOUCHED MY EYES, but after twelve cups of coffee and a Vitamin B injection, I was good to go...MORE LATER. I have to tell you about the NALLS and getting to speak in the REALLY FOR TRUE Monroeville courthouse with Homer Hickam (!!!) (Like about 20 million other people on this planet, I love his work) and etc, unless I forget and it all settles down among the pink socks to breed itself into a hundred other stories that don't seem related, but are.

Posted by joshilyn at May 9, 2006 6:49 PM

The maraschino cherries? I bet they stick to all of that bubble gum I swallowed (as a kid, mostly, ok ok, I always swallow bubble gum. Except for the permanence, why not?).

Posted by: Em at May 9, 2006 9:41 PM

Good thing I soak my cherries in brandy for a year (or a decade depending on my growth of laziness) before dipping them in powdered sugar and chocolate....the consequences....egads! how diabolical.

Posted by: Cele at May 10, 2006 12:30 AM

Up here in the mountains, they soak the cherries in moonshine. I ate two at a party and have never been the same--they must have lodged in my intestines and forever tainted my blood.

Posted by: Edgy Mama at May 10, 2006 8:17 AM

You SUCK for not getting a Dream Cone. You know that, right?

Posted by: Jay Allen at May 10, 2006 12:56 PM

1. Congrats on coming prepared, which I am assuming you did if you were drinking in Monroeville, a dry county, and I am thinking that the package store in Repton doesn't have anything pomegranatey.

2. I feel old admitting this, but I used to help out in Warren's class growing up. He's only a couple of yrs younger than me, but still.

3. Doesn't that courthouse rock??

Posted by: Anne Glamore at May 10, 2006 9:01 PM

A visit to see the 'Mockingbird' production in the courthouse is the grand finale on my long planned literary dream drive. That I plan to make solo, zig zagging across the south, even if I am 80 and without a driver's license at the time.

Homer Hickman is a home state boy, for me. And a gem of a human being, to boot.

Posted by: Jennifer at May 13, 2006 5:27 PM