Nashville – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our September 2020 theme on Zoom “Nashville.”

Tonight, Nashville, we were in Nashville.

We found our way to the secret Nashville location and ditched hubby to get closer to his tight Levis. His Oscar-winning wife stole our line and our moment. But we got a drunk buzz and a selfie.

We moved to the Nashville area and said we were downsized, Druid, Demonbreuns from Detroit. We still can’t find the mosque, but we love being down-a-piece from Nancy’s hair place.

Assassinations and riots and wars were in far away places, keeping evil far from our safe Nashville neighborhood—until the crime tape and bags of evidence and grizzly details. Now we are haunted by the horror story and the monsters among us.

We were sure our interview was a failure. We tried on the not-just-any-jackets and saw the lights and—in the middle of the crowds and construction—we could barely hear the good news! And now Nashville is our home.

Our father came to Nashville to be with us on his final journey—from dementia to final directives to bladder problems to hospice to a catheter choice no one makes. But it was a more rational choice than the desert.

Our maiden trip to Nashville followed a blizzard and delays and missed connections and a goodbye and a red eye. Grief and exhaustion and Indy-All-Night ruined our trip to a place we would never revisit—but here we are, Nashville.

Special thanks to our six storytellers—Rob, Marianne, Jackie, Emma, Steve, and Julie. We are back December 14 (a little break for now) with “Holidays.” Let us know if you have a story!

Nashville – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our Sept 2019 6th year anniversary theme “Nashville”. 

Tonight, we experience Nashville.

We all enjoyed a weekend of temporary bachelorhood with pimento cheese and bourbon, till an impromptu gig for bachelorettes at an Airbnb, where wine and Wagon Wheel led to a blues jam Stairway to Heaven…and a night of Music City Magic.

We gathered a legion of lesbians to gather supplies from the unexpectedly kind 73 - NashvilleChristians to take to the laughing Egyptian beauties. At the end of a day of asking and receiving and giving, we felt the ugliness of being ourselves…till she translated the smiles from shame to beauty.

We were homeless with a sense of humor and needed the million-dollar fee for the song-writing context. But we settled for sweet tea and the show at the Golden Arches dinner theater, moved to Nashville, and married the feller of our dreams.

Our champion rescued us from brothers with cat food and staple guns—and he wasn’t what was wrong. But Mom died on his birthday, and he died of a broken heart. But he encouraged us to find a better future—and we found a better home in Nashville.

We spent a lot of time with Nashville losers, when a mysterious stranger at the mall encouraged us to do what we love. And we never talked again. Then we read his obituary…just before our first gig doing what we love.

Our colorful and mortifying dating life in Nashville finally led us to someone who didn’t expect a Scandinavian model and didn’t need us to explain ourselves. But we slowly learned he was more fascinated with our race than with us—and we need to be more than a fetish.

We pursued our semi-dormant ferocity to change our society by kindergarten, till a nervous breakdown brought us back to Nashville. We unschooled our children with self-directed hippies, without selling our souls to the devil…but we did get secular religious status from the devil system.

We made a garden to separate us from the Airbnb parties. But a hairy, New Jersey, drunk “good guy” in pajama shorts put us in “murder-you-mode.” And we got to tell his whole group that we squirted Kevin in the crotch.

We welcomed our family from Jersey, till ice-breaking ACT comparisons foreshadowed the nightmares to come. The room painted with make-up and manure was the last straw. And Nashville sighed with relief as they left—and we would love to pour them a full cup of coffee!

Thanks to our storytellers—Karla, Tamara, LJ, Michael, Melissa, Matthew, Sally, Sonia, and Marilyn! We are back Oct 21 with some shocking stories. Plus, we are partnering up with Mewsic Kitty Cafe on Nov 10 for cat stories. Submit your story idea for either here.

74- Shock



Nashville – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our 5-year anniversary theme “Nashville” in September 2018. 

Tonight, Nashville, we were in Nashville.

In Nashville, we got to know our 101-year-old spitfire Gram—shopping for the Lexus of 61- Nashvilledouche bags, discussing proximity theories, and revealing descending dove tattoos. And in the end…we fed the ducks.

In Nashville, we arrived with a dream and discovered how much we love salsa dancing and matzah ball soup. We fished our keys out of the dumpster and attended a barbecue party for the wrong Mark. And we learned to be careful about bragging too soon.

In Nashville, we left a boring party in a strange part of town, when Cinnamon Girl ran low and a call for help didn’t help. But T with his slim jim overcame our stranger danger, and we stared the handshake that connects.

In Nashville, we came for her dreams but found long days and abusive nights and sleeping alone at the holidays. We finally left when the flinching fear became reality. But we’ve found family and learned to love the place we hated…boots and Elvis statues and all.

In Nashville, we took our master’s degree in sewing and made clothes for elite families and costumes for a burlesque show. Then shopping for notions led to Dolly’s designer and a very challenging career. And we learned to be very careful where we stick the pin!

In Nashville, we met a friend who almost drank himself to death, and almost drown in the park, and almost died of some duck disease…and we still don’t know the answer to his question.

In Nashville, we saw her gliding in an angelic sundress through the ethereal light—and we forgot our raisin’! But our baby-doppelganger plan didn’t work, and now we dream we don’t have to observe the 500-foot buffer zone.

In Nashville, our glowing reviews slowly unraveled before our eyes. The mysterious bad guy from “Taken” helped us make our home, and we shared the struggle of our precarious status. But a new job and a new guy led us to like our new self better.

In Nashville, we met him on a blind date…with someone else, while we were semi-engaged…to someone else. Twelve dates, countless romantic letters, and 62 years later we said our final good-bye here—and through it all we listened to the music of the moonlight.

Thanks to all the storytellers for a wonderful night—Rose, Rob, Ty, Annette, Mercedi, Christy, Sally, Iisha, and Emily! Join us next time for stories that take place “All in a Day”. Got a story? Pitch it here!

62- All In a Day

Rachel Gladstone – The Murdering Exterminator

Rachel Gladstone shares a story about a neighbor who asked her out…and then it got weird. Or maybe it started weird. From September 2017’s theme “Nashville”. 

The exterminator who lives down the street asked me out last spring. I’d said hello to him on occasion, the way one does with neighbors in a passing sort of way. Then, one morning, while I was walking my enormous pair of dogs, he took a left turn from the far right lane of our acquaintanceship and veered towards me. Pretending I hadn’t seen him, I crossed the street, but that did nothing to deter him. He was oblivious. He was also missing some teeth. And as he closed in, so did an aroma reminiscent of 9th grade biology class, the semester we were dissecting frogs. This is not a smell you want to encounter twice in your lifetime.

Trying to smile through my gag reflex, I corralled my dogs as he shuffled ever-closer in 49-Nashvillehis ill-fitting jeans. He drawled his opening line in an accent so thick he should have come with subtitles.

“Do you live alone?” He leaned in for punctuation. I leaned back.

Was this his idea of a logical segue from our previous conversations about the weather?  Before I could even take a breath, or turn tail and run, I answered with a resounding “NO!” Actually, I did live alone but I couldn’t be too careful. I didn’t know this guy. Maybe he just wanted to invite me over for an innocent beer, but there was always the possibility that he wanted to invite me over and make a suit out of my skin.

“Well,” he replied looking down at his bright orange trainers; a color even a dead mouse could see at forty paces. I guessed ‘surprise attack’ was not in this exterminator’s handbook.  “I just thought we might could have lunch sometime,” he drawled, spittle escaping his lips; a by-product of the missing teeth, I think.

My first reaction was to shout “NO!” again. But maybe I was being too picky, I chided myself. Who was I to say no to this guy? If I squinted, he almost looked jaunty in his stained trucker ball cap. He was a man wasn’t he? He was breathing. He was upright. And he’d approached me. What more did I want?

Luckily, this momentary brain freeze was followed by an absolute certainly that this redneck that smelled like the inside of a raid can was not the peanut butter to my Reese’s, so I swallowed hard, trying not to fidget and said, “Oh… well…I have a boyfriend,” which I absolutely did not.  But I sounded so convincing I believed it myself for a second.

“Well,” he said again.

Just then Tank, my neighbor’s chunky Chihuahua, saved the day by escaping his yard. My girls had a running feud with that dog and thinking this was just the moment to settle the score they gave chase, yanking me from the uncomfortable exchange at break neck speed. “Thanks anyway!” I yelled over my shoulder, as I sped away.

As my 200 pounds of hound continued to charge ahead, I realized that I had escaped a moment of lunacy. I’d just considered going out with some dude who possessed the breath of a moose and teeth the color of a Burnt Siena Crayola crayon. I felt like such a fool. What was wrong with me? Evidently, I had reached a new pinnacle of self-loathing. I hadn’t felt this embarrassed for myself since that time my boyfriend’s cat had left her bowl of wet food half-eaten and I, being on a starvation diet, looked at that bowl and wondered to myself, ‘Is she gonna finish that?’ But in my defense, this guy had been the first guy to ask me out in a really long time; we’re talking Game of Thrones, the winter is coming, really long time.

I didn’t think of this embarrassing encounter again until the middle of summer when I was faced with the Great Flea Invasion of 2009. Upon finding them everywhere, I immediately Googled fleas and discovered two things. First of all, when you magnify a flea to 1,000 times its size, it looks just like the creature that bursts out of that guy’s stomach in Alien. Second, those suckers can procreate faster than a couple of born-again virgins on their wedding night. I knew it was time to call in a professional. And I knew just who I was gonna call.

It wasn’t hard to track down the exterminator as his number was painted on the side of his beat-to-shit pickup in what was clearly red house paint. At least I didn’t have to Google him too.

“This is your neighbor from down the street,” I told him as he answered the phone. “I live in the light green Victorian?” He said nothing but I could hear him breathing so I plowed ahead. “You remember,” I said, praying to God that he didn’t. “You asked me out?”

“I only asked you to lunch,” his whined at last. Crap, I thought, he remembered. Still wishing for subtitles, I pressed on; explaining my plight. “Well…so, about the fleas…”

“Sure,” he said. “I can come by tomorrow. I’ll even give you the neighbor discount.” I was almost afraid to ask what that meant.

The next day, the Exterminator drove the 200 yards from his house to mine in his bondoed blue pickup, a large opaque, plastic barrel  fitted with a hose perched in the well, his liquid, lethal-tender, sloshing with abandon inside. He lumbered from the cab, pulling the hose into place and as he sprayed the perimeter of my house, with abandon and without a face mask, I wondered how many brain cells this guy could possibly have left.  As he sprayed, he regaled me with a host of fun fumigation facts, and I could tell he was really trying to impress me when he began to explain the life-cycle of the flea, like he was the Stephen Hawking of the Exterminator set. But all I could think about was that old commercial where this Raid can comes slamming down on top of a cartoon ant while the voiceover says “KILLS. BUGS. DEAD.”

The fleas met their maker and before long the exterminator was, once again, just a distant memory. I noticed he had taken up with a woman who, interestingly enough, had about as many teeth as he did and I thought how true it is that there’s a lid for every pot. And then, one cold, windy November night, I was driving home when I rounded my street corner and almost ran head-on into a slew of fire trucks, police cars and ambulances. As I pulled up to my house I could hear raised voices coming from the direction of the exterminator’s and there he was, holding a shotgun, a dead man at his feet, screaming at the police, at the top of his lungs and gesticulating wildly.

My neighbors came running towards me, frantically shouting that the exterminator had shot some guy in self-defense, a point that would later be proven in court. Everyone was freaked out and shaken to their core and we stood in the chilly evening breeze trying to make sense of it all and clinging to one another for warmth and reassurance. And in that moment, three thoughts ran abreast through my horror-stricken mind. First of all, someone had been shot to death just three doors from my own. Second, not only did I know the guy who pulled the trigger but he had asked me out! And last, but certainly not least, I thought, Damn! I miss all the good ones!


Nashville – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory for our 4 year anniversary theme “Nashville”. 

Tonight, we experienced Nashville.

One day in Nashville, despite the dissected frog smell, we briefly considered going out 49-Nashvillewith the upright breathing suitor—and after the mass destruction of fleas and the death of a stranger, we lamented letting a good one get away.

On night in a Nashville park, at a candlelight vigil for peace, we broke up a fight over Jesus between two guys named moth-…well, one of them was named Tommy—and his story helped us understand.

We wanted to make it in the Big Apple, so we left Music City. But after struggling to shave, we returned to cry…and despite a new look at the old places, sometimes we miss the magic.

We began creative writing in Nashville, which took us from the “ass-end of Appalachia” to lightening haiku. But listening to a friend’s funeral story brought us from a lack of faith to an unexpected place of comfort.

At Nashville’s Tennessee Pride, we learned of sausage and sewers, and heard watermelon sounds through the flapping doors. And after a day of the tired owl’s silent signals, we succeeded—and dreamed all of night of sausage patties.

We attended a convention in Nashville where the crowd stood, and we paused—and we were grateful for a lunch in the yard.

We saw the Nashville skyline and it amazed a small-town girl. We roomed with a fellow Jack Johnson lover, and discovered new people and new ideas. And a view of the skyline through the clouds led to negotiating a separation…and staying.

We left home in Oklahoma to come to Nashville, but texts from a no-good husband sent us back home to file for divorce. But after a breakdown by a broken car, and some time with family, we came back to Nashville—and were glad to be home.

In Nashville, we found polite Publix shoppers…and body-slammed a disabled employee…and Music City alchemy eased the chain around our neck.

That was our night in Nashville.

Thanks to all the storytellers–Brittany, Elisa, Matt, Rachel, Rob, Amberly, Jeff, Sarah, and Dana! Join us October 23 for our next theme: “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.” Got a story? Pitch it here!

50-Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Jeff Shearer – Tennessee Pride

Here’s Jeff Shearer’s funny story about the day he worked in a sausage factory. He told this story for September 2017’s theme “Nashville”. 

I received a call from the temp agency the first week I arrived in Nashville. Until I found a teaching job, I told them I’d take anything they could offer me. I scribbled on a notepad:

Job category: General Labor.

Job location: Tennessee Pride.

49-NashvilleThey had actually said Odom’s Tennessee Pride, but the name Odom meant nothing to me. I was headed to Tennessee Pride. Maybe it was a Cultural Event. Tennessee Pride. Maybe it connected to football.

Instead, when I walked through the doors of Odom’s Tennessee Pride, I was met with the sounds of grinders, tumblers, stuffers, linkers, emulsifiers, and macerators. All the sounds heard in the process of making sausage.  I had never before or since heard of a macerator. It’s unique to 2 industries:   sausage making, and sewage management.

My first indication that this was not a job sweeping floors was when the supervisor handed each of us first timers a steel gauntlet and said, “Try this on for size.” I was still trying to figure out why we would need only one metal mesh glove, when he then asked: “Any of you have a problem with the sight of blood?”

We were told to count off by twos. I will forever be indebted to the number two. The number ones were sent to the delivery room. I thought he meant delivery from the plant.   He meant delivery to the plant, where the live product becomes a no longer live product.

I was spared the delivery room.  I was sent to the cutting room. There I was given a five minute lesson on how to use an electric knife that looked like an ice cream scoop. A constant line of huge femur and scapula bones rolled toward me. The meat on these bones was gone. My job was to remove anything remaining from the bone.  Anything.  When my 10 gallon tub filled up, I was to then empty my carvings onto a high speed conveyor belt that sent all the product through a set of flapping plastic doors. Whatever happened on the other side of those doors I will never know, but the sound was a cross between a bowling alley and a room full of bouncing rubber watermelons.

I lasted one hour and 5 minutes in the cutting room. After failing a remedial lesson, it was decided that I was not cut out to be a deboner. A virtuoso deboner can roll 10 pounds of fat per minute onto the conveyor belt. I was averaging — just under two.

Over the next two hours I also failed to make the cut as both a seasoning blender and a cold salvage operator. Three strikes before lunch usually means you don’t get to stay for lunch. But Tennessee Pride was determined to provide me one more opportunity to prove that I had what it took to succeed in the world of sausage. I felt like I was back in junior high on the football sideline. “We’re going to send you in, son. Now don’t blow it. We believe in you.”

And that’s how I made it to the packaging room. The final step in production. Here, I was given the task of climbing several feet above a slow moving conveyor belt with twenty pound casings of frozen sausage.  I then loaded each roll of sausage into one of 4 metal cylinders that sliced each roll.  This process produced perfectly round quarter inch thick sausage patties. I was shown how to adjust the speed. Below me, two lines of women faced the conveyor belt, 6 on each side.  And each woman had the task of shuffling 12 patties into little white boxes marked “Ready to Cook. Real Country Breakfast Sausage.” As fast as they completed a pallet, it would be whisked off to a refrigerated truck bound for distribution. The whole operation was seamless.  This was the epitome of a well-defined process.  The timing was crucial.  And I discovered I had a key role in that timing.

But I also discovered very quickly my innocence in production line protocol. Because in a job that to the uninitiated looks like it’s ruled by uniformity and monotony, once you are inserted into that process, you quickly see that there is unspoken dynamic at play.   I had always thought life on an assembly line must be mindless – that you could simply endure the 8 hours by listening to an internal playlist of your favorite oldie goldies. Oh, it’s five oclock already? I was just about to listen to Johnny B Goode.   I had always assumed a slow day was a good day.

The 12 women on my line relieved me of that notion. And they did that without ever saying a single word. They couldn’t. It was too loud. We all wore ear plugs. They could have all yelled at once and I never would have heard them.

No. It was the body language.

While I was happily peeling the plastic off the tubes of frozen sausage and guiding them into the metal slicers while mouthing the words to a favorite song,  I looked down to see 11 heads all turned toward one woman. She was small, much older than the rest, and had the face of a tired owl. There was a unanimous expression of “do something” in their eyes. The owl-faced woman then looked me straight in the eye. She tilted her head to the end of the line where the last two women only had 2 patties between them. Sure enough. One of my feeder tubes was empty. I quickly fed a new sausage roll into the slicer. When I glanced back at the line, all was fine. I tried to give the women a look that said “Small oversight. That won’t happen again.” But nobody looked my way.

Twenty minutes later, I noticed the youngest of the packers glancing up at me. Just for a second. Then it happened again. And again. Flirting, on a sausage line? I was trying to figure out a way to make a face that read, “Sorry, girl, I’m spoken for,” when she turned to Owl Woman and raised the same eyebrow she had raised at me. The Owl gave me a look with both eyebrows raised, shot a glance at the conveyor belt, and cocked her head as if to say, “Really?” I then saw that the patties were stacking up, and each woman was having to reach downstream for patties that were slipping by them. I found the speed adjuster and spun in down. But I went too far, and in no time the Owl was swooping her eyebrows up, up.   I split the difference on the regulator, and the 12 woman soon fell back into their regular rhythm.

For the next 5 hours, I was a nervous wreck.  I studied each move the women made, looking for any hint of annoyance or stress.  No more oldie goldies. It was like driving a car on a windy mountain road with cliffs on both sides. It took me forever to figure out that the gestures on the woman closest to my station.  Too fast.  No, too slow.   No, too fast.   I spent nearly an hour desperately trying to find a calibration that synchronized with her gestures, until I found out her gestures were the result of some sort of facial twitch.

Five minutes before the shift ended, a man with a clipboard and a red hardhat came by. He put the clipboard in front of the older woman. She took a quick look at the clipboard and then back down at parade of patties. The hard hat man raised a thumb in front of her as if to ask: “Is everything OK?” Oh-oh, I thought. All the women looked at me, and then watched  the older woman as they finished their remaining boxes. The older woman took her time in responding –as if her work was more important than the question in front of her. The man still had his thumb up. The older woman never lifted her head, but I believe there was an almost imperceptible glance in my direction. It might have been a blink, but my gut felt it was a glance. Then she nodded at the man, and he put a checkmark on his clipboard and left.  Our shift was over.  The next shift of workers slipped into place, and we all headed home.

That night I dreamed about sausages. I found myself with 11 other patties in a small white box. It was cold. And as the lid was being shut I was yelling “There’s been a mistake. I don’t belong here!  You don’t understand. It’s all a big mistake.   I’m an English major!” But my voice was drowned out by the noise of a hundred machines and belts and moving parts.

In the morning the phone rang. It was the temp agency. Back to Tennessee Pride, I asked?

“No. We’ve filled our quota there. Here’s your new assignment. Write this down.”

I grabbed a pen.

Job category: General Labor.

“Ok. Got it.”

Assignment: Event setup

“Event setup. Got it.”

“Yes, I know how to get to West End.  Say again.   A bar on West End?   Oh, I see.  I see.  A Bar Mitzvah. At West End Synagogue.”

In the back of my mind I could still hear yesterday’s endless noise of the sausage slicer.

“I’m on my way.”

Nashville – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from Tenx9’s 3-year anniversary theme “Nashville” in September 2016. 

Tonight we visited Nashville.

In Nashville we met Chainsaw, an English major who couldn’t understand Twain, who would be singer but couldn’t sing, and who used his body with its underlying text to meet39-Nashville his idol.

We moved from Manhattan to Music City, lured by the magic of honky tonks and amused by the cute traffic, till we found ourselves house hunting while the joys of pregnancy overflowed all over town.

We came to Nashville pursuing an opportunity at a major publishing house—excited about the life-changing, dream-fulfilling possibilities. We raced in a toy car to an interview with a team of quirky grandmothers…and now we are where we belong.

We encountered Music City’s fiddle-wearing monsters in the walls. We imagined a poltergeist of thousands of jumping spiders—but we were somehow calmed by research that revealed that the nightmares were true…but rare.

We attended church in Nashville in a large, dark sanctuary with a small gathering, listening to the endless sing-song intercession, gripping the pew and awaiting the impending peril of the silence-shattering shout.

We moved suddenly to Nashville, landing amid CMA crowds, finding southern hospitality despite the lack of room in the inns, dazzled by the fireworks of the Fourth and the glittering diamonds of downtown, and stepping outside our comfort zone to find the comfort of our new home.

We attended a wedding in Nashville between the most wonderful little girl in the world and a young man who did not follow a wise father’s advice…but who better remember some of it.

We lured our homebody parents from the cornfields and reality-show dates to their first trip to Nashville. The highlight of their adventure was encountering a real-life reality-show celebrity and watching him…leave the store.

We moved to Nashville to relive the grief of the river of tears, now flooding our daughter’s life as it once flooded our own, and moved to a new home too close to another river of tears. But, for all the tears, we would choose it again because we choose to love.

Many thanks to Brittany, Joe, Rob, Jacquie, Chris, Anne, Stephen, Laura, and Gail for telling such excellent stories! Our next night of true stories is October 24, and our theme is SecretsGot a story? Tell us here!


Nashville, pt. 2 – The Understory

Rob McRay delivered another powerful understory to the crowd at September 2015’s Tenx9 event “Nashville.” 

Tonight we were in Nashville.

We moved here from a small town, to the land of “buggies” and “shar tal”; and found 26-Nashvillepeople who are trendy and chic, and kind and hospitable, and “totes inappropes”—but mostly we found family.

We took Papaw to the city—well, mostly it was a tour of radiology labs where we answered questions about treating venom with whiskey and flirted with nurses—and it ended with line dancing in puppy poop.

We took a vacation to Florida, where we had dinner with an overly chatty lady, and a quiet stranger; and we returned to Nashville to unemployment, a hurricane, illness and divorce—but the messenger had assured us we’re in good hands.

We visited the ICU of venerable Baptist hospital where cancer was killing his kidneys—and we saw that look…and we heard the alarms…and we made that choice…the choice we all wish he had made.

We were stunned to meet a huge celebrity among the CDs and albums and 8 tracks—and we risked dying, and lost our indoor voices—but that’s why we live in Nashville.

We considered leaving, but a kind older woman helped us at the store, and we got a bluebird tattoo, and we felt comfortable in our own skin—and we decided to stay.

We visited a couple of bars downtown where we were recognized by school teachers and church relations, and we went the wrong way with drag queens while feeding mints to a man in a coma…and we wound up back in the closet.

We toured the Opry, and the Hall of Fame, and the steamboat, and churches and universities, and Nash Trash—and at the Veterans Hospital we discovered celebrity volunteers, and all around us we found another Nashville.

We ran errands for our big Disney trip and had a Nashville lunch of hot chicken; and then we road rides, spinning in every direction, with flashbacks of giant spinning tops and lots of pickles—before riding home naked.

And this is why we live in Nashville…and why some of us don’t eat hot chicken any more.

Join us on Oct 19 for our next night of true stories. Our theme is “Ghost” and you can submit your story idea here! For more on the theme, visit our event page or the Facebook event page