Billy Bob Barnett (Dust Bowl, US).

1930s Dust bowl family

Billy Bob Barnett sat hunched at the other end of the counter scoffing fish fry, ‘tatoes and pickle slop and glancing sideways down at me as though his best attempt at masticating toothlessly was a covert operation. He had already called to me across the vast spread of seafoam-green laminex that his name was Billy-Bob (or Billy Boy, or even Beelzebub) in a hokey accent unattributable to any of the known States of America. When he saw that I had got the peach pie it satisfied some obscure point in his mind and so he said, “You’re a nice, big girl.” He had one of those faces with blow-out cheeks that look like they are made of rubber and little sucked-in eyes like raisins withered on the stalk.   Dialogue as follows.

Miss Shitsville: Why do you say that?

Billy Bob: Just a beautiful big girl, ain’t yer. You play basketball?

MS: I don’t play basketball. In fact I loathe sports. Why do you think I play basketball?

BB: Well I don’t know. You’re a nice tall girl, thought you might play basketball. Ha ha ha he HAW.

MS: Well you’re a hideous short man, are you a jockey?

Barbra is going back and forth behind the counter to clear up.

Barbra: Oh, that there’s Billy Bob. He’s an ol’ friend o’ mine.

MS [incredulous]:  Everybody’s friends in Texas.

Billy Bob: Naw we’re good friends too ain’t we?

He moved his plate down the counter and sat on the stool next to me.

BB: You not from around here?

MS: No.

BB: Me either. Just passing through. That’s my truck out there, the red one. I gotta be in Dallas in a day or two. But I always gotta stop here for a piece a that prize a winning pie. Don’t I, sweetie? [to Barb: she ignores him.] Oh boy. Boy Howdy. Yessir.

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A minute passes. Then three minutes more. A blow fly the size of a sultana, drunk or insane, buzzes into my plate & lies dying in the melted ice-cream.

Billy Bob: Ever been in Amarillo before?

MS: No.

BB: Gonna stick around for a while?

MS: No.

BB: Me either. Where you heading?

MS: Oh– South.

BB: You got a car?

MS: No.

BB: Oh? You come by train?

MS: No.

BB: How’d you get here?

MS: Oh–

Barbra: What d’you think of the pie?

MS:  M-mm.

Barbra, smiling like the sunshine: What’d I tell you? Six ribbons at the county fair!

Another minute passes while Bob Wills, the king of Western swing, sings —

Drop us off at Bob's place driver
D7                       G
We can drown our sorrows there
                           A7
Drop us off at Bob's place driver
D7                           G
That's where we can lose our care

BB: You like pie?

MS:  Somewhat, Billy Bob. But I can’t honestly say I came to Amarillo knowing it was famed for pie.  Do you like pie?

BB: Well I don’t know…

MS: Apple, cherry or peach?

BB: Well I don’t… Apple I guess. Always like apple pie.

MS: You mean you don’t like apricot?

BB: Well I don’t know… Where you from little lady? Not from around here…

MS: That’s for sure.

BB: Pretty girl like you…

MS: Your sycophancy does not endear you to me, Billy Bob.

[Continued next post: Awfully Lonesome and Blue.]

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article-0-1611060C000005DC-143_964x753Colour Photographs of American Store Fronts, 1940s (9)

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    C                        G
Now Bob's is the place where all the silk and lace
A7                               D7
Mix with those who haven't got a dime
G                               A7
Just drop us off at Bob's place driver
D7                            G
Where we can have a grand ol' time

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1940s America in colour

Photo credits: Library of Congress

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2234453/Portraits-true-grit-Amazing-black-white-photos-capture-everyday-struggles-Oklahoma-farmers-fighting-survive-Dust-Bowl.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2174473/Library-Congress-color-photos-American-children-1940s.html

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A joint outside of town (Amarillo, TX).

It was in one of those Breakfast All-Day-and-All-Night joints so impervious to the movement of the sun & time in general there was nothing to indicate that it was no longer the 1940s; the daily paper was filled with a lotta talk about a lotta hostile Indians (boy howdy were they het up!) and Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys played on the radio behind the counter, A66ALX broadcasting from one of those towns otherwise known for its prison.

The waitress was called Barbra Beaufort — her name badge said “Howdy, I’m Barbra!” in script with the sunburst of an exclamation mark and a picture of a cow. I found the place lit like Blazes in the clean light of an Amarillo dawn, somewhere just outside of town.  I’d been up all night, searching in vain for a place that served drinks on Polk Street until it became clear to me that the other kids in the street, hair slicked & looking swell in their Sunday bests, had got out & dressed up so they would be ready to go to Sunday school at the crack of sunrise, at which point I thought it prudent to skip sleep and get out of town. I could smell sausages sizzling in eight tons of Texas fat whenever the kitchen door swung behind her & see there was a load of dishes indulgently piled on the side for washing when the other Barb (Barbra Barrow) came on at 12.

By this stage in my travels through Texas my stomach recoiled from the prospect of yet another famous Texas Best-value Superlative Roadhouse Feed: sixteen tonnes of Bar-B-Que’d beefsteak, a bowl of glaucous beans, pickle-encumbered slop, green peas (as opposed to red ones) in a finger bowl meant for a single-serve of butter (wrapped in foil), fries, and the ‘Best Seafood in the West’ even though there is no sea — no water, even — for miles around, which really makes you wonder. One time back of the Pokeville Beefeater’s Gambling Parlour I asked for the Vegetarian option and Barbara Burly said, “WHAT IN THE HELL IS THAT?” In the cities like Dallas they are more used to receiving those queer kinds of requests from fags and fancy-talkin’ tourists and have the menus printed:

MENU:

Prime Texas beef-steak-burger

Sliders: a buck fifty each

Half pounder: 6.50

Full pounder 7.00 (with pickles) 7.20 (with egg) 7.50 (with bacon) 7.80 (with catsup)

VEGETARIAN OPTION: Fuck off.

The breakfast menu was either eggs, bacon wrapped in pancakes (“Porkies”) or beef sausages in glazed buns festooned with curlicues of the pickled slop they had served mashed up with green peas as a delicacy the night before. Barbra could not help but notice that I, Miss Shitsville, gazed at the menu in despair. “I’m not too hungry,” I said finally. “It don’t matter none,” said Barbra. “How about a piece o’ pie? We got apple pie, cherry and peach. My grandmamma’s recipe. Won six ribbons at the county fair.”

“Ok. Sounds ok –”
“Apple, cherry or peach?”

As you know, the Texas State motto is ‘friendship’ — folks are implored to ‘Drive friendly– the Texas way’ — In fact, wherever you go in Texas folks are so friendly it don’t matter none if you are deaf or just can’t speak because it gets so lonesome out there in the desert that whatever you do people will just go on chatting. “Peach is my favourite.” [Cutting a slice.] “Can I heat it up for you, honey?” [putting it in the microwave] “It’s nice heated up with a bit of cream or ice-cream–” [she threw down the ice-cream in anticipation, while the pie went round and round in the microwave] “Can I get you a drink–?” [reaching for a glass.] “Creaming soda. With ice-cream. Two scoops.”

“Can I get whisky in that?'”

“Sure.”
“An ashtray?”
“Here, sugar.”

I said, “Thanks — thanks — thanks–” as she laid out the ashtray and then Texas sized cutlery on pink paper napkins (classy tru-weave quilted effect) and finally she placed the latticed piece o’ pie on the bench-top with a clink. It was steaming & oozing yokel charm, melted ice-cream & blue ribbons just like the County fair. Then “Thanks–” again, for no reason; the pie, if it had ever lived, looked repellent. She said, “No trouble, darlin’,” and wiped her hands on her apron, which was printed with cherries.

[Continued next post: Billy Bob Barnett, Dust Bowl, US.]

High larks in Amarillo, TX.

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Amarillo, TX is the heart of the panhandle, I assume because its womenfolk have achieved some ascendency in pancake-making and or because it is the last place you can stop to get some poached eggs before you get into the dust bowl (‘Out of the frying pan & into the fire’, as they say in Texas). Apparently there are no chickens in the dust bowl… perhaps because they’ve been wiped out by poachers? [Now I must apologise profusely for that singularly awful joke.]  Amarillo has many beautiful parks and playgrounds, Tumbleweed Cafe, plaid-covered twin-beds, refrigeration, a veteran’s hospital, a famously lighted street (Polk Street) where buffalo roam (I assume), a disproportionate number of young men who run away to sea (true), and a by-pass so you can go ’round to avoid the whole town if you want to (recommended). Polk Street, I now realise, was named for both the dance and the dots; it’s a good old fashioned friendly Texas tribute to the Amarillo pie-making matriarchs and sampler enthusiasts Dorothy “Dot” Hawkeye and Pat Tearaway. Perhaps I have been naive, but down my way poke more often refers to the kind of merry chap lighted Broadways aim to attract with their combination of glitzy Super Safe tram stops (the one outside the NGV has a “wow” factor set permanently at eleven) and an unquantifiable number of Judy Garland tribute shows, so you will understand the depth of my disappointment when I discovered that the only Revival happening on Polk Street in Amarillo, TX was in fact a Religious one, where the object of veneration was that dully robed, girlish bearded fellow with a Spanish name.

polk_street_at_night_amarillo_TX Sunset Motel Amarillo TXVolsMotelAmarilloTX

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Some velvet morning in hotel rooms with famous people (Las Vegas, NV).

Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire

Yesterday Archie rang to tell me that he had found a website that sent you free underwear. He had ordered six pairs — one for every day of the week, skipping Naked Sunday. Like a lot of rich people who were once poor he has held onto some curiously tight habits and has a genuine fondness for free things. “It’s probably not very good underwear,” he admitted. “But it’s free!” I had to wonder why the website was sending out free underwear and he said there was probably advertising printed on it.

“That is some very targeted advertising,” said I. “Who is going to see the underwear besides you and perhaps some drunk women?”

“It is probably just a web address,” he said.

“I only wonder what kind of web address is going to make the women stop what they’re doing & head to the computer.”

“Well I’ll find out soon,” he said gleefully. No hint of criticism really troubles the man unless he feels it has something to do with his appearance, in which case his brow furrows and his disposition clouds very quickly; I have seen the sulking come on like thunder over the mountains, then he digs his heels in like a child. Soon enough he is in despair and calling for old morphine doctors that haven’t been allowed to enter the state since the 40s.

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So this is what it has come to after those long, drowsy ochre and umber years, awash in soft whisky… After all of the hours spent in hotel rooms with famous people; flutes of sparkling wine and free peanuts on Opening Nights with Barbra Streisand and Nancy Sinatra and Tom Jones et. al. Some velvet morning when he’s straight he’ll realise what he’s lost. I said as much and he became thoughtful. As he drew the words to him the clock ticked over. Finally he said, “You’re right, honey. So many old fond friends. A lotta them are gone now. I’d forgotten…” he sniffed. Then he said, “Do you think I should call Nancy Sinatra and tell her about the underwear?”

“Maybe not, Archie,” I said.

“But she might want to get some for herself.”

Elvis and Priscilla and Fred Astaire

Elvis and Priscilla Presley, Frank and NancySinatra

 

 

Conclusion: Brooks ended & Frankie returns from the mists.

Archie Shitsville at the Heartbreak Hotel, Las Vegas, NV

Elvis and PriscillaMy papa took years to get it together but it came undone in a matter of months. All of that therapeutic LSD began to have adverse effects, so I have spent years suffocating under the boredom of talking to a man whose body has essentially been taken over by aliens in the hope that I can prevent those aliens from harming his body so that it is still in one piece when the papa I love finally comes back. After Mother left him he began to spend a lot of time holed up in hotel rooms that were slathered from wall to wall with the soft furnishings of nouveau riche bad taste, and personally he looked almost as much like a pimp as Elvis in the 70s, when the cigar never left his hand: stone walls, stone fireplaces, stone floors, plastic palms and plastic couches, a conversation pit that was sunk to the depths of a mine shaft, a lazy Susan on the coffee table, avocado oak and orange accents and all bathed in that slightly lunar lighting which comes from having a fish tank wall. If you knew my Mother like I do you might dimly suspect that she is being a bit of a bitch when she heaps scorn upon the man & feigns not to know him. For all of that, the one time I went to live in Vegas with papa, I gave up after a couple of weeks; most women can’t bare being with him long enough to get pregnant.

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Years of being petted by every woman in the realm, starting with his own Mother, left Archie Shitsville with the idea that women would part for him like the Red Sea. He is vain beyond belief, which is understandable, tho slightly pitiable. In his first youth I think he looked a lot like ‘The Great Dark Man’ that Quentin Crisp will tell you about (in his second youth he looked more orange than tan). But Quentin was also sage enough to know that The Great Dark Man does not exist, a lesson my papa never learned, so ageing upset him & he cried like a baby over multiple shots unable to comprehend why after the first steamy encounter women (& men) were unable to take him seriously and didn’t return his calls.  Papa operated like many spoiled boys in the belief that all of the energy in the universe was generated by and returned to him; and he was simply blind to the residue of post-shave stubble & dead skins cells and general rubbish that collected around him & the avocado-coloured porcelain bathroom sink like Coca-Cola bottle tops on the banks of green rivers.

Elvis and Priscilla wedding

Beginning in 1967, every Sunday was Naked Sunday. I suppose he had got the idea that weekly nudity would connect him with the irresistible forces of Primal Man.  In any case you can imagine the horror I felt whenever Sunday came around and I was forced out of the place; the problem being that Naked Sunday often blurred into Naked Monday (which was otherwise “Drunk-at-work Monday”). And on any given Tuesday it was hard to know whether he would sleep at the casino (read pass out in his dressing room) or come home for a night chaser with a blonde woman in brown sandals who looked like Sylvia Plath. These sandal-wearing Sylvia Plath women also believed in the godliness of Naked Sunday.

Archie lives between Vegas hotel rooms, downsizing or upgrading as his fortunes change; otherwise he has a more or less permanent suite in a shabby hotel just outside of town where a gigantic neon Marilyn presides over the former glory of the forecourt and the swimming pool. Marilyn’s skirt flutters up in three lighted stages (a bit like the Skipping Girl’s rope). This was where he met the cocktail waitress he married (Jeanie Shitsville); she also did room-service on Mexican feast days. After he had been married to her for two weeks she was scared off and so the room-service dwindled rather. That was when I came to live there. One day I went around the room collecting all of the dishes from the various locations he had left them: cereal bowls in the bathroom, dinner plates under the bed, glasses on every surface (still filled with dried out slices of lemon and scummy melted ice water, going slightly green) and filth-encrusted cutlery in every cranny, I put them into a pile beside the sink and the pile went up to the ceiling. The scatalogical mess that I was forced to clean up for him was much in contrast to the Fierce Independence and hunter-gatherer instincts supposedly exemplified by the hairy figure of Primal Man, which just goes to show you that men are full of shit, so is it any wonder that fairy-tale marriages break up.

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Photo of Elvis Presley & Priscilla Presley