Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Celebrity Crush

So, I just finished perusing People magazine’s annual “Sexiest Man Alive!” issue which has inspired me to reveal to you my celebrity crush. I’ll bet you a million trillion dollars that you won’t guess who it is. Are taking the bet? Good. I’ll give you three guesses. No, he’s not cover-boy Adam Levine. No, he’s not on page 114. He’s not on page 124, either - though that guy is mighty cute. Okay, I’ll be generous – one more guess. No, he wasn’t on last year’s cover, either. Please contact me directly for my bank account number and routing number so that you may pay up on our bet. But before you begin liquidating your assets, I’ll tell you who he is.
Though you won’t find him in the current “Sexiest” issue, or any past issue either, you will find him every month in one particular magazine. He writes a regular piece for Southern Living. His name is ….. Rick Bragg. I hope you didn’t just say, “Who?” If so, shame on you. To save you the trouble of looking up his Wikipedia entry, I’ll summarize. He was born in Piedmont, Alabama and grew up in Possum Trot (don’t you just love that?). He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for his work at the New York Times. He’s the author of five books plus a compilation of his newspaper stories and is a writing professor in the University of Alabama’s journalism department. He’s received over 50 writing awards.
I developed my crush on him as a result of his article on the last page of each month’s Southern Living. I've been reading the magazine for 30+ years (yikes!).  In recent times, I've enjoyed M. Lindsay Bierman’s editor’s column at the beginning. He often writes about decorating and has taught me that window shutters on a house should always be capable of closing, or at least look like they can. And I always know that Rick Bragg is waiting for me at the end of the magazine. His words are definitely the best part. I never skip ahead to it – I like to get there when I’m there.
Now, I should first explain that my crush is not creepy. I don’t want to tie him up like Kathy Bates did to hapless James Caan in Misery. I’m not hoping to have his baby - I understand that he’s happily married. No, I’d just be content to sit on a stool at his side while he types. Maybe get an autograph. Possibly a picture for my Twitter. I’d call him “Mr. Bragg” out of respect, though he’s less than a decade older than me. I’d tell him I’ve seen the Fairhope roses, too (you see, he wrote an article about taking his mother and two elderly aunts to see them on a two-day trip in which they lived on 250 barbecued chicken thighs and all the fixins packed by his Aunt Edna.) I’d let him know that I agree with him wholeheartedly about the value of books – the bound kind, not the kind you stare at on an electronic screen. And, if I was feeling bold enough, I’d tell him that I, too, am a Southern author, because I have killed mules.
Okay, now you’re probably thinking that this is creepy. But it’s not. It’s a Southern Writer Thing. Rick Bragg explained it to me in his essay, “The Southern Journal: The Quill and the Mule.” The commonality between all Southern writers’ work is a dead mule.  William Faulkner and Larry McMurtry have killed mules. Cormac McCarthy even beheaded one at the hands of an unhinged opera singer. Mr. Bragg provided quite a list with examples to back his assertion that the mark of a true Southern writer is a dead mule. Rick Bragg has killed two mules, himself.
I read his essay in the midst of writing the first draft of my as-yet-unpublished novel of historical fiction. And so the quest began to kill a mule. Being a historian, my mule killing couldn’t just happen randomly. I had to find a historical account of a mule dying to weave seamlessly into my narrative. While writing about miners in Wyoming who used mules to bring up their daily haul, my hopes soared. I poured over my research, certain that someone must have recounted a mule’s death. But sadly, I had to conclude that chapter of my story with the mules all returning from the mines unscathed.
And then, deep into my story, out-of-the-blue, not one, not two, not three or four or five, but SIX mules died. A whole team. I wrote the lines about the mules’ death with a big smile on my face. (Okay, that may be a little creepy.) I won’t share the details, so as not to spoil your enjoyment of that as-yet-unpublished historical novel I mentioned, but, suffice it to say, the chapter is dramatic. And, I am proud to say, historically accurate.
So, I wonder if I have the nerve to contact my crush and tell him that I, too, am a Southern Writer. I have his email address at the University.  But perhaps my crush is best maintained from afar. If I contacted him, I might make a mess of things or catch him on a “curmudgeony” day (he proudly claims to be a curmudgeon), and then I’d be disappointed.
If you would like to join me in fan-girling or fan-guying over Rick Bragg (and I highly recommend you do), then here’s the link to his on-line articles:
Don’t be afraid to click on it – no viruses. The link is to part of Southern Living magazine’s site, or you can go there yourself and type Rick Bragg in the search box. His raconteur videos are on the left and at the bottom of the page are the links to his columns. He talks and writes about cafeterias, gospel music, strange things Southerners eat (in fact he writes about food a lot), Southern traiteurs, Southern places, the value of books, home, the blessing of family – both the ones who begat us and those we’ve begat. If you’re a Southerner, you’ll find things that bring back memories. And even if you hail from somewhere else, his writing will touch your heart. Perhaps then we can form a fan club and call ourselves a cutesy name, like the Bragg Bunnies. No? How about the Bragg Sheets? Well, maybe I am getting a little carried away.
            But even if I never encounter Mr. Bragg in this life, I already know him through and through, because he’s a Southerner – with a capital “S.” And I know that every month, when my magazine comes in the mail, he’ll be waiting for me on the last page. And I adore him for that.

May your tea be sweet and your cotton high,
Leigh Ann Thornton

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Last Nacho

Once there was a Mexican restaurant on the eastern bluff of Mobile Bay. It sat on the side of a two-lane road after the thoroughfare had curved away from the closest town. A dirt and gravel plot in front of the restaurant served as a parking lot for the long, low building. On one side of the structure, which appeared to have been a house in the distant past, there was a screened porch. Usually a guitar player of passable skill was plunked on a stool on the porch, picking out classic rock songs by the likes of Lynyrd Skinner or Creedence Clearwater Revival while wailing out the lyrics over the amplified music. The gathered listeners, depending on their level of joviality which was directly tied to how many Corona Extras had been downed, would sometimes sing along.
But inside the restaurant area, wooden tables and chairs held happy diners imbibing gooey cheese enchiladas, gloppy refried beans, and mounds of yellow rice. The establishment went by the name of the Last Nacho, the name taken from a story recounted on the back of the menu. You know how it goes. The platter arrives, heaped with crispy tortilla chips smothered with melty cheese, jalapeƱos, sour cream, pico de gallo, maybe some ground beef. Everyone reaches to grab a chip. Crunching, chewing, and swallowing follows. And then the moment arrives. There’s only one nacho left on the plate. Eyes dart back and forth. Finally someone asks, “Who wants the last nacho?”
“I’m done.”
“I won’t have room for my meal, if I eat another one.”
“I think I’ve had enough.”
“You eat it.”
“No, thanks. Why don’t you?”
No one wants to be the person who eats the last nacho. I suppose there is a measure of politeness in declining. Who wants to be labeled greedy or gluttonous? But the last nacho just sits there. The cheese grows cold and hard; the chip splays out limply on the platter like a fallen soldier left on the battlefield after everyone else has retreated. (Excuse the cheesy simile – I’m writing this on Veteran’s Day.) Finally, the server arrives to whisk the platter away, back to the kitchen to be scraped into the trash.
            I’ve run across a few folks who are suspicious of the last of anything. “There must be something wrong with that one. That’s why no one is eating it. What has everyone else seen that I haven’t?” I have a dear family member, who shall remain nameless, who thinks the last of anything must be stale, molded, rancid, or generally contaminated.
But that’s not as annoying as people who have an objection to just about every food. We’ve all dined with one of them at one time or another.
“I don’t eat that.”
“I’ve never had this.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“I think my mother told me I’m allergic to this.”
“My cousin, the podiatrist, says I’m most probably gluten intolerant.”
“That always gives me gas.”
“What’s tha-a-a-t? Yuck!”
“I’ve given up dairy, meat, pasta, bread, sauces, fried foods and all foods beginning or ending with consonants.”
“So what do you eat?”
“Oh, I still eat foods beginning or ending with vowels as long as they aren’t dairy, meat, pasta…..”
If you’re one of these people, then “Bless your heart,” as we say in the South. You probably want to stop reading now, and please don’t ever invite me to eat with you. Now I know that some folks have legitimate allergies or intolerances to certain foods, but they seem to just keep quiet about it and choose what they can eat from what is offered.  The OTHERS want everyone else within earshot involved in their issues.
I’ve found that the people who limit themselves so much in one area of life, like food, tend to live small lives. A few months ago I sat by a woman at a luncheon held at a local Italian restaurant. She didn’t know what most of the common Italian dishes listed on the menu were. As she read the descriptions, she commented with a string of don’ts, nevers, can'ts, and won’ts. Then, while we dined, I attempted to converse with her, despite her expressed revulsion to the mushrooms on my plate. She had never traveled outside her home state and had no desire to. She was horrified that I had flown, in an airplane, across the ocean, all the way to Europe, twice, and that I wanted to go back. I diligently searched for topics to discuss with her. She didn’t like to read, doesn’t watch television, has no interest in music. I considered bringing up politics just to get something going, but then she mentioned that she doesn’t watch the news or read the newspaper, so I doubt that she would have known anything about any current issues. She’s one of those people who lives in a small world and never tries anything new or wonders what’s beyond the horizon. A small life filled with negativity.

So, I say: Try new things. Embrace new opportunities. Never stop learning. Sing along with your radio in the car. Dance like no one is watching. Run like Phoebe in Friends. Don’t be shy, because, in the words of Dr. Seuss, “those who matter don't care, and those who care don't matter.” Laugh out loud. Live positively.  And, if no one else wants it and you haven’t already cleaned out the complimentary chip bowl - twice, eat that last nacho.

May your tea be sweet and your cotton high,
Leigh Ann Thornton