One of the things she taught me was the Greek Potatoes. Slice them thin, layer them in a glass dish with Cavender’s seasoning, cracked red pepper, then glugs of olive oil, make sure everything is covered. Turn them over once or twice while they are in the oven; they’ll take forever if you stack them too close together. She taught me this some evening at her house in North Chattanooga, an adorable two bedroom covered in her curated collection of objects–in the kitchen was a poster print of Otto Dix’s Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden, another poster for Alexander Calder’s Circus. We did a lot of these dinners at her house, which, I soon learned, was something unconventional.
Did I mention that at this time I am 15, or 16, and she is my theater teacher, and she will not tell us how old she is because, she says, “It will change how you think of me. And since I am gay and weird and into theater and art, I go to her house to hang out. There are other theater kids there, too, and we are watching the Tony Awards, and we are drinking red wine, or drinking a tiny bit of it, barely. There are only lamps, no overhead lights, and one of our classmates has actually moved in to the tiny side room because his family life at the time is in turmoil, and amidst the potatoes and the Tonys and the music playing on the kitchen radio, we are doing all night long the thing Stella loved doing most: Talking About Ideas.
It did not occur to me at the time that this was unconventional. But, as a teacher, Stella rewarded the unconventional. The ugly but true. The beautiful and fading. The gloriously funny and hilarious and tragic. We are learning about Butoh, and Robert Wilson, and Richard Foreman, and doing the work of Nicky Flax, and the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and playing Augusto Boal’s games, and learning how not to fight with our parents by reading Theater of the Oppressed, and we are watching The Wooster Group and Grotowski and learning about Ellen Stewart and Anne Bogart and The Negro Ensemble. We are writing our own script to our bootleg production of The Wizard of Oz; we are doing parts of Peter Weiss’s The Investigation while cross referencing the wars in Bosnia and the work of Stephen J. Gould and making tableaus using Laban Movement Analysis, and we are separating the audience by race and class as they buy their tickets. And in doing all that, Stella carves into us this most extraordinary value: we think this richness is normal.
She gave us power and agency. She told us we could move away, we could get into our “reach” college, we could be anything else than what was expected of us, which for a bunch of country Tennessee kids was not much except the status quo. She taught us the meaning of the words Status Quo. She had zero tolerance for disrespect in the theater and I several times saw her royally chew out students for laughing or snickering during someone’s presentation: “How Dare You,” she would say, and say it again, “He is trying to make something interesting and genuine and you are out here too stupid to see it, you’re embarrassing yourself, you have no respect for the risks it takes to make this kind of art, How Dare You.”
Stella often told us, “If you don’t get out of high school during high school, you never get out of high school.” She was so, so right. I know this even more as I get farther away from the unparalleled fortune of her classroom. When the bullshit structure of school cliques and SAT scores kept trying to tell us that These are the best days of your lives, Stella taught us that our lives were actually in front of us.
She was the greatest teacher I have ever known, and one of the greatest friends I’ve had the pleasure to call on. She knew the deepest and darkest and most treasured sacred parts of me and I am only who I am today because of the magnificent stroke of luck that brought our trajectories together. She hated driving fast on the freeway, she hated bees, she hated the microwave. She loved sheep dogs and sparking things. She loved rituals and laughter. I carry her memory with me, always.
I was driving down Broadway today after market and a fire truck was coming down behind me. So, I pulled over into the parking lane where there happened to be a space, so the fire truck could get by. Then the truck went by, and some guy behind me — we are now at a red light — got out of his dry-cleaning van and started banging on the side of my van with his hands, on my driver’s side door, yelling and screaming in Spanish. I do nothing. He gets back in his car and zip around me to get in front of me, then we are stopped at a 2nd light. He gets out and starts pointing at the back tail light of his van, which is broken “You wouldn’t move, so the fire truck hit me,” he says, over and over, “I’m honking at you, and you won’t move.” And I am not sure where he thought I should be moving to — onto the sidewalk? There are thirty cars trying to get out of the way of the firetruck, right? And I am not really hearing any honks because there is a firetruck going by full blast…. So, then he takes like 20 pictures of my license plate and me sitting in the van, and screaming and what not. I felt totally calm about it. I am telling you in case someone ever calls or writes and accuses me of “not moving” and causing the fire truck to break his tail light.
Do not go deep into the journals,
or scroll back, and back, through the Instagram.
There is seduction, maybe,
and a filter for every feeling.
But the only self
to be found there
is the one you
still are now.
This got to be a drag, so I stopped for a while.
A fun thing happened today–I got to tell Collin about Beast Jesus, which he had never heard of, had somehow missed the meme going around a while back. So I was there for the moment he saw it for the first time. We laughed and laughed.
Tomorrow is Dolly Parton at the Forest Hills Stadium, so that’s about the only thing worth talking about.
The chamomile is stressed out. So says my farmer friend Kellie, when I mentioned that instead of blossoming all over, it sent up two single shoots with a small bouquet of flowers at the top of each–the shoots seemed to have come in a single day, and it’s true, maybe it is stressed out, maybe it wants a bigger pot, or more sun, or not to be crammed in with the nepitella. Sorry, I say to it. Maybe it will stay fuzzy after the blooms. I don’t know, I’ve never grown it before.
I took a break! As you maybe figured. No reason, I just felt like not thinking about the blog. I had two days of market, and a totally lovely birthday dinner at Florian for my friend Witold and his husband Kris on Saturday night–vegetable antipasto then a couple of their thin crust pizza, then two strange desserts–and then on Sunday I flew down to Florida to hang out with my family–the brother, the parents, the nephews, the sister-in-law.
My mom made BLTs and hash browns for lunch–SHIT it was so good. We ate Father’s Day dinner at the Emmy’s Time Out Tavern, which was super disturbing to me at the get-go, but turned out good. I could write six posts here about everything that was going on. There were a couple of incredible Florida ladies–hair and chunky jewelry, sparkly flats and lots of touching–How are you, are you doing okay, welcome, happy to see you, that kind of stuff never ended. In a good way, ultimately. Most everyone in the room seemed to be a regular and that always feels nice.
Monday we went to Daytona Beach after bacon and blueberry pancakes and spent money in the arcade, and then had lunch at Sazon, a Cuban restaurant that is so, so good. Empanadas for the boys, half a cuban for my mom, big chicken soup for my dad. I had rice and beans and a ham and cheese arepa. Super great, everyone go. Then we drove home, and then back to the beach again in the evening, to sit and enjoy the breeze and the boys played in the water and we ate sandwiches and Fritos and watermelon and Pellegrino sodas. It was such a great evening. My mother and I, we think about the same thing when we go to the beach–maybe everyone thinks about this. What would it take to look out at the horizon and think, “Let’s get in a boat and just go that way.” It’s that human thing, I guess, is the answer. To seek.
The rest of the week has been full of work, and shipping syrup, and driving 200 lbs of maple sugar to Mast Bros, and writing material for next week’s wedding between Nick and Jamie–I am supposed to emcee the toasts. Not toast, per se, but be charming and hilarious when introducing the toasters. I can do that.
On a night when Kip is with his family in Hilton Head, I am eating the biggest best salad that I made for myself. In terms of sentences my mother never suspected I would write.