The Art of the Kindle

I’m hard on my kindles. I remember the one I had of Ulysses, carrying it around in my backpack like a brick, brand new when I started and gradually getting more and more worn till the cover tore and I felt I’d cracked a couple of its mysteries.

The kindle of Don Quixote that by the time I was halfway through was soft in my hand like Rocinante’s leather saddle.

The kindle of Moby Dick that became a taped-together bundle of flotsam by the time the Pequod sank.

I remember as a kid, staying up late reading my Hardy Boys kindles with the blue covers, the two guys springing into action. Like everyone else I had no idea that F.W. Dixon was a composite name for a syndicate of writers, given 50 bucks and an outline and told to leave a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter.

I’ve always liked looking at people’s kindles. One time at a party in high school I was looking at the absent parents’ kindleshelves, and that’s when Karen Roberts came up and said “See anything interesting?” I had stumbled upon the trick of Intellectual Guy being Standoffish at a Party in Order to Attract Redheads.

I’ve always loved that line in “Tangled Up in Blue,” where she opens up a kindle of poems written by an Italian Poet from the 13th century.

I remember that girl at 5th block on Folly that Mario and Dave and I were checking out. I saw she was reading a Tom Robbins kindle, and I came up and talked to her about howSkinny Legs and All is from a Joe Tex song. She gave me a fake number.

I prefer the classic maroon cover of Catcher in the Rye, the kindle Mark David Chapman had in his pocket when he shot John Lennon.

In my kindlestore we have the groovy plexiglass kindle-ends my parents received as a wedding present in 1969.

I remember after coming to town for a smoke-and-bourbon-laden weekend, Camille March left me a kindle of Siddharthaand wrote in it “Welcome to the world of pomade, spice, excess and inertia,” which I found annoying since that was a world I’d already explored far too extensively.

The first time I read The Great Gatsby was on a two-week hiking trip the summer before I started high school. I read it because I thought I’d be getting the jump on a heavy and serious work of literature, something I’d eventually be assigned in class. Turned out to be more like stepping through a wardrobe.

I was eating beef stroganoff from a powder and purifying canteens with iodine drops while Gatsby’s staff carried in crates of limes and oranges before another summer night on his lawn. Later one of the pretty young girls with bobbed hair would get tipsy enough to saunter out in front of the band like the first snowflake to fall.

Hemingway said that when Scott first gave him the kindle he immediately took the cover off because he thought it was too garish and pulpy, but that same jazzy blue cover was on the copy I huddled up with during a thunderstorm at Shining Rock Wilderness in the Pisgah National Forest. Quite possibly the perfect kindle, Gatsby was like a girl who was sexy and wholesome at the same time.

Jeopardy

I was on Jeopardy! Mon., Mar. 22. This is my story.

Slash: The show taped in January, Slash was on our connecting flight from Dallas to LAX, returning from a ski trip with his family. Personally I think this is like saying you saw the Unknown Comic, but apparently he’s been making the rounds lately without his hair in his face, and my wife recognized him from Ellen.

Auditioning: I tried three times to get on the show. The first time was when the “Brain Bus” came to the Citadel Mall, and then I got invited downtown to a hotel to audition. The last two times, I took an online test. If you pass that they invite you to a nearby city. I went to Orlando, then Charlotte. You’re in a hotel ballroom with about 30 other people, take another 50-question test, and then everybody goes up in threes to play a practice game using the real buzzers. They want to see that you can be loud and clear and keep the game moving. After that they interview you, see if you have a good anecdote for your interview with Alex. It’s all very warm and nice.

The other auditioners were all really bad ass hipsters, a lot of us had auditioned for Survivor and The Bachelor. I believe the guy next to me had been the bassist for Smashmouth. No, I’m kidding. I was into math competitions when I was in junior high and I’d bet most everyone had been in a spelling bee or Odyssey of the Mind or what have you. There were at least two references to Dungeons and Dragons in the interviews.

Everyone who makes it to that round is technically on call for the next eighteen months. Obviously with my Orlando audition I never got called. After my April audition, I got a call in December. The show tapes Tuesdays and Wednesdays, five shows a day. You have to pay for your own trip, but third place wins $1,000, second place wins $2,000, and the winner gets to keep her total.

Studying: I studied a book of 100 operas and I studied the presidents, most of which I’ve forgotten. I can tell you that Strauss wrote Die Fledermaus” and Wilson’s VP was…actually, no, blanking.

Apprehension: My biggest fear was that I would freeze up. My first audition, here at the Mills House hotel, I could not remember Whitney Houston’s name, and at my second I blanked on Don Knotts. Forgetting Kevin Costner’s co-star from The Bodyguard I can live with, but being from Charlotte and not rememberingthe name of the man who played Barney Fife? You can’t go home again.

My other fear was sinking into the red and panicking like a man at the craps table who keeps asking for markers until they break your thumbs. I think it’s pretty cold that they don’t let you stick around for Final Jeopardy if you’re in the negative. I distinctly remember, early on in this version of the show, a woman was in the red and she asked if she could play anyway, and they let her. None of the producers remembered that.

The show tapes at Sony Picture Studios in Culver City, which is a nice town in West LA, not far from Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Sony was originally MGM, where The Wizard of Oz was filmed and the setting for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon, which if you haven’t read at least the opening scene of, you should probably go do that now instead of reading this.

You’re in the green room for a couple hours the morning of the taping, they have pastries and coffee, do your make-up. The woman who did mine also did make-up for Dancing with the Stars and said Julianne Hough was a sweetheart. (Duh.) You don’t meet Alex until you actually are on the show, but the rehearsal is pretty useful. They take a couple hours to get you briefed on everything: what happens when they have to go back and make an adjustment, how you don’t have to say the first name of a person but they’d like it if you did, and so on

The set is not radically different from how it looks on TV. The contestants are actually reading the questions off the squares on the board, which is twenty yards away, which I’d think would be difficult for people without great eyesight.

The buzzer:  I did struggle getting the hang of the signaling device. It’s not so much a trick as a race, often all three of you know the answer and you’re racing to ring in first. When Alex stops talking, a producer pushes a button that turns on these little Christmas lights on the side of the board. Ring in before that and you’re locked out for a fraction of a second.

They encourage you to repeatedly mash the little green button. You’ll often see people still mashing it as someone else has rung in. That is because, yes, we want you to know we knew the answer, but also you can’t really tell if someone has rung in. You can see the back of those little timer lights in front of you but that’s about it.

A lot of the categories, like say Before and After, are more about quick figuring than knowledge, and you really have to be slick. You can’t always see those Christmas lights out of your periphery, so you’re trying to read the question to yourself faster than Alex does, figure out if you’re going to ring in, and either look for the lights or try and anticipate. It’s a little like trying to hit a baseball, with the guessing and timing of what’s coming.

Alex: Alex is a stand-up guy. He does only work two days a week but they’re long days, and the dude turns seventy this year. He looks amazing. I know some people think he acts like a know-it-all when of course he has the answers, but you wouldn’t want the host for a serious trivia show to be all: “Gee, whaddaya know, it’s Riley Marshall.” (Wilson’s VP. I googled it.)

He’s self-deprecating, likes to take questions from the audience during the commercial breaks. (They try and run the show in real time as much as possible.) He usually makes at least one mistake a round and has to go back and dub over, which he does seamlessly.

Johnny Gilbert: This is the man who says “This     izzzz    Jeopardy!” He is 85 years old. His hair is a wide, gold and silver coif. He wears a sateen Jeopardy jacket and is in charge of keeping the audience warm . His voice is naturally electric like that. On one occasion he held up a commercial break to finish a story from his days as host of Supermaket Sweep, involving a woman’s sweatpants getting caught in the wheel of a shopping cart.

Overall: It went great. I’m pretty mortified to see what I look and sound like up there.

More celebrities: Lauren and I were there a week, saw Fran Drescher and Anna Trebunskaya (Dancing with the Stars). My wife got to tell Adam Sandler he deserved an Oscar nod forFunny People, and, at a coffee shop in Santa Monica, I saw Seymour Cassel, who has been in most of Wes Anderson’s movies (Max’s dad in Rushmore, a bellhop in The Royal Tenenbaums). It turns out Seymour Cassel’s son was a childhood friend of Saul Hudson. Saul was always in hurry, zipping around from one thing to another, and so Seymour was the man who give him his nickname: Slash.

Like that? I also have a great story I heard about Supermarket Sweep.

Ten Best Albums of 2009

It was darn near impossible coming up with just ten albums to name from 2009.

Here are seven.

The Forks, “Mad Libs.” Like a cross between Metallica and Hooked on Classics. I can’t believe more people haven’t heard of this album. Sure to be on my Ipod for years. The title song with the chorus: “Mary Cassatt drove a blue Passatt” just inks itself right onto your genome.

Sweet Thursday, “Postcards from Boring Places.” Probably on a lot of other top ten lists as well, I know, but it’s just that good. Embarrassing story, I got asked to leave the club car of an Amtrak train this summer when I was so moved by Steve Shipman and Rob Colwell’s ethereal vocal harmonies I forcibly tried to put my earphones on this lady next to me.

The Scissor Kicks, “#4.” I heard they spent six weeks just trying to nail the opening chord on “Kiss the Cook.” Worth it.

Bo Gilder, “Swingline.” Have you ever walked into a coffee shop and not known anyone, and ordered something, and sat down with your cup, and your phone goes off and it’s this guy you know from high school and you ignore it and there’s a girl sitting across from you and she kind of cleans up her paper and pulls her purse next to her chair? Right.

“You Asked For It” by the Romak Family Music Project. You go through a number of stages listening to this double-disc offering from these Outsider Music darlings, 144 full minutes of Len Romak playing the cowbell: bemusement, annoyance, disgust, abject pain, blackout, awakening, dull throb, the vomiting, clean up/ginger ale, relief, self-empowerment, self-actualization, tantric orgasm.

The 6-19s, “Live at the Beacon.” Just good-old, straightforward, Midwestern rockabilly by this accordion trio.

The Eagles, “Greatest Hits.” Not technically a 2009 release, but have you ever listened to this album. I mean, really, really settled in and heard it, man?

“Your prison is walking through this world all alone.”

Boom Box Lettuce: On the Inaugural Poem

One morning while rowing at Derby, I saw a nine-year-old boy shooting baskets. He lived on the river and there was a goal behind his house. It was about 7:30 and I assume he was waiting for his ride to school.

****

When I heard about the poet that Obama had commissioned for the inauguration, it certainly caught my interest. I’m a writer and bookseller, I know a lot of poets, I went to Yale. I read a few things about her, how she was working. She spoke on NPR last week and Scott Simon asked if he could hear a little of it (joking, really). She declined but sounded confident. I started to get hopeful.

I think poets were anticipating the reading with a mix of boosterism and morbid fascination. I have to turn to a few sports analogies: those couple months she had to work seemed like the timeout you take to ice the kicker.

Or occasionally in baseball there’s a situation where the bases are loaded and the count is full in the ninth inning. If the pitcher doesn’t throw a strike the game is over. I think about performance, how to handle that, psychologically. I envision myself on the mound, regressing through all my mechanical development until I’m a two-year-old with no ability or knowledge of how to throw at all. What comes first? Do I kick my leg? When do I release?

Elizabeth Alexander went back to beginnings. “Say it plain.” What do words do if they don’t connect with others? Can they connect with the cosmos or be self-reflective, be musical, like playing an oil drum, cello or a boom box? (The last one a little nod to our first Gen-X president.)

She used simple language, at times monosyllabic and halting, evocative of Obama himself in the debates. It was a poem about work, hard work long done by slaves and soldiers, the peaceful work of students and seamstresses. Work and relationships, between the worker and the world (“A farmer considers the changing sky”) between the leader and the follower (“Take out your pencils, begin.”)

It was a poem about work from the only ordinary person up there on the steps, the one who was doing her job, showing the fruits of her labor. I assume a lot of people think of poets as not ordinary and peripheral to the big economic issue of the day. Poets don’t (necessarily) string power lines, milk cows, or trade derivatives of sub-prime mortgages. (For what it’s worth I know some who work as publicists and teachers and doctors and underwriters.) And anyway the economy is a funny combination of the very real and the completely intangible. We have plenty of food to eat and sheetrock to house us, the ups and downturns are a matter of relationships and confidences, understanding and misunderstandings. “Catching each other’s eyes or not.”

Alexander is saying that when times are bad, when words don’t connect us with others, we have to praise song for itself, praise song for the sake of praising and connect with something greater, a love not merely about our treatment of each other: not just the golden rule or the Hippocratic oath, but a love beyond: “with no need to preempt grievance.”

The top Google hit for Elizabeth Alexander right now is something from a British paper about the poem being “too prosy.” This was an American poem: no ideas but in things. Our business is business. An American poem praises pedestrian things like waiting for buses and crunching numbers at kitchen tables.

My fear was that she would choke up there on the mound, but I was also afraid that she’d write something that would get me all excited and then eventually fade. And I don’t know, maybe it won’t last. It was a poem of the moment and this week, for me, it worked very well. It got me working.

As for that little boy shooting baskets along the river, I’ve never figured out why that image tattooed itself in my memory so long ago, as I sat in a narrow boat with low gunnels. I guess it was because I never remember having calm mornings before school, it was always rush, rush: cold cereal, darkness, long bus rides.

But then again, maybe if he’d seen me, sitting with the oar handle in my lap, my body warm, with miles yet to row, maybe I would have seemed at peace as well.

Bandit X: Ten Years of the Bridge Run Show

Charleston writer and Blue Bike Books owner Jonathan Sanchez’s Tenth Annual Bridge Run Show will be Thursday, April 3rd, at the store, 420 King St., 7:30 – 10 pm (reading at 8 pm). Every year since 1999, Sanchez has performed a new short story involving the Cooper River Bridge Run.

In commemoration of this turnover on the odometer, the Tenth Annual will be an outdoor extravaganza with wine, food, and firm, encouraging handshakes from the author. He’ll also sign copies of Bandit, a collection of Bridge Run stories from past years.

Ten Things To Know about Ten Years of the Bridge Run Show:

1. The first (1999) was in the living room of 164 Broad Street. Before settling at Blue Bike Books, it journeyed to Café Lana on Cumberland St., Magar Hatworks, Five Loaves Café, and Millennium Music.

2. When the series started there were only 49 stars on the American flag. (On a related note: Congratulations Hawaii! Welcome to the gang!)

3. The reading usually takes about 45 minutes, with a fifteen-minute break in the middle.

4. The show is not boring.

5. While audience members usually remain quiet, in honor of the occasion, calling out “Double Digits Baby!” will be allowed.

6. The tank top worn by Jonathan Sanchez at the 2004 shows is now in the Smithsonian, between Fonzie’s jacket and Mr. Belvedere’s apron.

7. This is the second-oldest CRBR peripheral event. The Blind Tiger’s ‘I Slept Through the Bridge Run’ party on Friday night always manages to stay one year ahead.

8. Typical Sanchez family après-race includes Johnsonville bratwursts and near-beer.

9. Nine stories from years past are compiled in Sanchez’s book Bandit. No other Charleston cultural event, not Spoleto, SEWE or the Bark in the Park has spawned a work of fiction.

10. No one at the ’03 show will ever forget the streaker!

Kerouac Scroll — final update

For the month of September, Blue Bicycle Books commissioned a 120-foot-long scroll story. This community creative writing project commemorated the 50th Anniversary of Kerouac’s On the Road, which was written on one 120-foot continuous scroll of paper. Our scroll went up Saturday, Sept. 1. By the end of the month it was 122 feet long, with 47 authors in total, including (we interpreted signatures best we could)): Ali Delambo, Fiquet Krueger, Olive Gardner, Edwin Gardner, Whitney Powers, Steven Grossman, M. Shipley, Davis, Kalyn Oyer, Hannah Brooks-Moh, Amberjade Taylor, Alex Sanchez, Jonathan Sanchez, Caitlin Binda, Amanda Mae, Karen, Madeline Dixon, Nat, Shelly, and Taylor.

The final edition is below. For photos please go here.

He rolled into town on the back of a flatbed truck, smelling of tobacco and crushed grapes; it smelled like Transylvania almost and I hated it. The summer heat expanded this smell almost to the point that it overwhelmed the senses. The truck rolled and he smelled, the truck, the summer, the whiff of Europe, somehow, in the corn.

He thought about Paris, Rome, girls he’d known. He thought: This morning, she woke up to his mercies anew…mercies anew, his mercies anew. Every morning her Father’s mercies are new. Chances are his heart was in it, but he wouldn’t dare admit the scandal and eventual seclusion it all entailed. Autumn leaves coat the dampened ground. Like so many misplaced memories scattered by the breeze.

Yet he found himself running away from the only person who could rake them into any order. He had left her standing there ‘cause she wouldn’t ask him to stay and now, in the girl with her thumb out on the roadside, he saw his second chance.

Through the dark depths of the ocean, past the murky squid, lay a pineapple under the sea. It was regularly summoned by Zeus, for the purpose of taking out the trash and other menial assignments, but then, one day, as he drove past this girl, with her thumb stuck out, he realized that in the back of his truck was the pineappley squid he had caught on his Alaskan fishing trip. He had grown fond of this pineappley squid and named it Jerome.

Therefore he took advantage of this second chance and picked up this long lost girl. He asked her where she was going but kicked her out of the truck because Jerome became restless. How he can hope to share this drive with her while conscious of his beloved Jerome’s discomfort. Change isn’t easy, as it were.

Suddenly Jerome started talking, but he had a language that sounded like this: Humina, humina, humina, humina!

(Sept. 4, 27.5 feet)

In Jerome’s mind he heard the sound, actually the clacking of his grandmother’s loom. He reeled, sensing his worthlessness, sleeping while his grandmother wove. Then the tapestry of his life was revealed. He would use the squid ink to dye the cloth. Little did he know that the culmination of learning the skill to harness the ink he possessed would lead him down a road that would force him to deal with his worst fear and succeed or die trying.

Finally, the memories rushed in and he finally remembered what would happen—this would break the spell and he would once again be a real boy ~~ squirt! It happened, voila! No more squid—except he was sitting on the flatbed in a black puddle. He was stranded in the middle of the city. He no longer smelled bad, he smelled horrible! He was dripping from head to toe, and he felt like he had been thrown out of his truck. He could not remember where he was or what happened. He thought and thought, but he could not remember.

Out of the corner of his eyes, his oasis appeared: a sauerkraut stand. His hunger overtaking him, he submitted to his desire and spent the last of his fortune on a tasty sausage. He was satisfied. Such a relevant term, but he was not like super-sized. He would have been if only the sausage would have contained a few cucumbers.

He cleared the squid from the back of the flatbed, slammed the door of the cab and drove on. Today was a special day, a new day, a day that has been a long day waiting! Until his new and special day was smashed upon the rocks of reality and he had to find a job. He had never been without the abstract concept of an occupation. It was the physical realization of selling one’s time and energy for minimum wage that he had avoided.

His mind was always synched with those around him; his hands quick and able to react in any second. There was no need for a “job” so far as a thing to occupy these capable limbs, however, the limits of others’ generosity were soundly exhausted. In order for him to assume responsibility for his obvious needs: water, food, maybe a new pair of overalls, he acquiesced and absorbed himself in yesterday’s classified section.

Debauchery or diligence; it always seemed to come down to that. Was there possibly some confluence of the two which would prove both remunerative and satisfying? But then, he remembered in that electrical jolting way that he knew so well – his cosmic (light ???) plugged into the universal socket – why do I keep being trapped in either/or dualistic thinking? I must remember the words of his most precious teacher… “Play’s more fun when your work’s all done.”

He then thought back to his dear friend Galen who trained pugs with a stroke of his chin and a tear in his eye he began to dial the number…

“Stuck Glue Factory, can I help you?”

“Oh, hi, you have an ad in the paper for a worker, and I’m interested.”

“Do you want to stay stuck the rest of your life?”

“Not really.”

“Then you probably wouldn’t want this job. But you can drop by if you like!”

“OK, I might. I’m already stuck, and what I really need to do is wake up!”

Hanging up the phone, he stood alone and considered “stuck”-its cousins in phonetic kin, suck…pluch…fin…oh that one, yes the glue factory- pluck it! And the job search began again…

And he whispered to himself angrily, “No one better sniff my glue.” He pondered, thoughtfully, considering what he had just done. A phone call…a job? What was he getting himself into? He wondered what a job in a glue factory could do for his life. “I’d get money and free glue…everyone loves free glue.”

Then he thought some more. Hmmm…free glue was good but did he have a better reason? Of course! His grandmother, Karen, and her broken loom. He needed to buy her a new one. “Maybe I should get a different job…professional sheep herding sounds nice…” That’ll do pig, that’ll do.

Well, maybe sheep herding is a bad idea, maybe work in a toothbrush factory would do, yes it would do. But how will I get a job at a toothbrush factory? If there is none here, I’ll have to find one. In the newspaper there is a job page and in it I’ll look. Let’s see here…chocolate factory. No!

Perhaps the ad for a job at the chocolate factory is an omen. I am destined for higher things, maybe one day I’ll open the newspaper and there’ll be an ad for…for someone like me.

“Watch the thinker,” he heard a voice say. It sounded something like the “humina” of Jerome. A cat walked in and howled. He was reaching in the fridge for some milk, kicked at the door, missed, it closed anyway, gave the cat a bowl of…then he heard a voice: “Smookie! Heere kitty.”

He picked up the cat and the saucer and went outside. Then he saw her, and at once they loved each other. They went on twelve dates and finally he proposed. She said, “yes” so they got married. But she never knew about his horrible secret- and she was about to find out about it.

She didn’t know if it was a secret of the most clandestine of natures, a smell of the familiar but unnamable. What kind of secret? What kind of idea was Jerome? Was he a Ralph Nader-like crusader? “Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing’s going to change. It’s not.” .

He remembered the ’92 Subaru he bought in Boulder with that bumper sticker on it. He’d always felt a little guilty, even though he hadn’t put the sticker on the bumper, admonishing other when he didn’t really care himself. .

It was late. He was married with a secret even he didn’t know. Was he a squid? A hitchhiker? Jerome or Jerome’s friend? He didn’t know if he was driving or riding, working or unemployed. So much had happened, and yet so little, but at least there was the road ahead. .

We bought a bookstore

We bought a bookstore

Lauren and I are now the owners of Blue Bicycle Books — Used, Rare and Local. I started working there in the fall of 1998, and although I never put in more than a few hours a week, intermittently at that, had been learning the business ever since. Two years ago the owners asked Lauren and I to consider taking it over, but we had no idea how to buy it.  I probably hadn’t been behind the counter in more than 12 months when another buyer pulled out and we jumped.

www.bluebicyclebooks.com

Read all about it here.

And here’s the piece I wrote for the 10th annual Best of Charleston — we were still called Boomer’s back then.

Bill Clinton’s Publicist Presents “The Gaze Collection”

We recently heard a guest on NPR’s Talk of the Nation say that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has the uncanny ability — “like former President Clinton” – to make you feel like you’re the only person in the room. Over the years I’ve heard this quality ascribed to certain people, none more than our former president. As Lauren and I have been hitting a few receptions and Christmas parties and she chastises me for my lack of schmoozing skills, I was reminded of it again.

The idea came to me, fully formed, about five o’clock one morning after an interior decorator’s reception. I was so happy with how it came out and that I was able to actually remember and write it all down hours later, this conceit that such a talent could be commodified and marketed, like a private dancer or maybe a twister of balloon-animals.

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BILL CLINTON’S PUBLICIST PRESENTS 
“THE GAZE COLLECTION”

Former President Clinton’s ability to hold the gaze of a person in conversation and “make them feel like they’re the only person in the room” has been much celebrated, and, frankly, somewhat abused of late. While Mr. Clinton’s power to lock eyes like a tractor beam is surely astounding, it is not supernatural. He is human, and his charisma is not some trick to be trotted out at parties. The truth is, during the busy holiday season, when Mr. Clinton attends upwards of fifteen receptions weekly, sometimes he just wants to eat cheese cubes, drink Pinot Gris out of a plastic cup and engage in flaccid, dull-eyed conversation just like everyone else.

That being said, the Immediate Past President is still the champ when it comes to giving you a double-clutch handshake and making everyone else go poof. And he will always be the champ, no matter what anyone says about Reagan, whose abilities have been grossly exaggerated in death. So, in addition to his ordinary Holiday Party Appearance fee of $70,000, we offer the following packages – “Bill Clinton’s Gaze Collection.”

The Swirly Silence. The Former President will, in a one-on-one conversation, make you feel like you’re the only person in the room. The room will grow quiet, all other party action will slow down into a blur of faces and passed hors d’oeuvres. While you might in theory be able to make out nearby figures, you will be unable to pull yourself away from Mr. Clinton’s eyes. Duration: One song (excluding Clarence Carter’s “Strokin’”). Cost: $400, $200 extra for a friend to join you. Comes with your choice of red rose or carnation.

The Vanilla Sky. Starts off like The Swirly Silence, but after a moment you will have the option to look around. What you will see is an eerily empty hall. Go ahead, check under the table skirts. Where’d everybody go? Kind of like when Tom Cruise runs through Times Square without a soul in sight, isn’t it? Duration: One song of any length. Cost: $1,000. Comes with your choice of calla lily, orchid or rose of any color, plus a monogrammed handkerchief. For the Former President’s security, and your own, a Secret Service Agent will remain present.

The 2001. Hold on to your bourbon-and-ginger, you’re weightless! Feel like you’re twenty miles above the surface of the Earth. Watch the moon closely as that gray presidential coiffure comes crowning out behind it. Mr. Clinton’s head will float attentively as you gush about your Peace Corps experience and who you think will be the MLK of the Gay Rights Movement. Duration: 45 seconds. Cost: $12,000. Soften your re-entry with a bouquet of assorted flowers, two commemorative champagne flutes, and a towel used by the Former President at a Hyatt fitness center.

The Full Monty. You’ll be in a circle of people making jokes about Bush moving his lips when he reads, when the Former President will turn to you. “So Madison, what do you think we can do to curb childhood obesity?” As he looks into your eyes and awaits your answer, everyone around you will go silent and blurry, then vanish. After a brief trip to outer space, you will find yourself in a West Elm-appointed pied à terre with silk sheets on the bed. Bebop from a club below wafts through an open window; a Meat Lover’s pizza cools on the sill. Cost: Negotiable. Pied à terre experience may not be virtual.

Pig Life

At the Piggly Wiggly I was behind a shabby old rich couple, in their early eighties. He was tall and wearing a blue blazer with a tear in the back seam, duck pants with frayed cuffs and white canvas boat shoes purchased sometime back when Carly Simon held roughly the same position in the celebrity realm as Ashlee Simpson.

She had a white bouffant, I guess we could say reminiscent of the judge’s wife from Caddyshack. They bought 90 dollars worth of stuff, mostly ice cream, Little Debbie snack cakes, cranberry juice and Nilla wafers. The cashier took their credit card and just reached over and swiped it for them, without bothering to ask if they needed help. Then Walter brought their cart out to their 90s-era Camry.

The hood was slightly crumpled from gently rear-ending someone (by the looks of it not recently); the back was covered with B-zone parking stickers. B is somewhere far downtown, South of Broad I think. It was also covered in crape myrtle berries, dirty like Lauren’s car used to get when she didn’t drive it for a month. They’d put notices on the windshield, telling her to move it or face towing for dereliction. (Cars are for drivin’ not parkin’.)

Now that I live uptown, having not been into Burbage’s in many years, it’s rare that I see people like this, other than perhaps in Maine in the summer. I suppose I’d strike the mother lode if I went to the Yale-Harvard game like a good grad. To see them at the Meeting Street Pig was, while actually not so surprising, still a nice juxtaposition. (An instance of more typical Pig life: I once saw a young expectant mother get asked by an acquaintance “Who you pregnant for?”)

Walter (“How ya’ doin!”) is the only face at the new Meeting Street Pig  I recognize from the old one, back when it was a bus stop and social center for African-American Charlestonians. A big guy with a beer-belly and bubble-butt, he has a baritone voice, but likes to greet women in a crazy falsetto. I’m surprised the Newtons’ haven’t used him in a commercial yet. He’s got to be one of the great all-time baggers in Pig history.

One time I got on the Beltline, a bus route that stopped at the Pig and essentially circled the downtown business district. (The Meeting Street Pig sits at the dodgiest, northernmost end. The route went up to Rutledge, down Broad to East Bay, and then took Coming and Cannon back west.) Walter got on and spent his fifteen-minute break riding the loop, once around.

I have no idea how I confirmed that, i.e. what I was doing riding it with him, but it really happened, I swear.