Tenx9 Nashville’s organizer and co-host shares a story about a Nashville prison for September 2014’s theme “Nashville.”
Enjoy this text of Tony Laiolo’s first story at Tenx9 at our September theme “Nashville.” His delivery was entirely fantastic.
“Welcome to Music City”
There’s no way around it; whoever lives upstairs is sacrificing a cow. Nothing else could account for that persistent, inhuman, agonizing cry. It’s 2:00 in the morning, and my freaked-out wife just woke me up so we can share the experience.
We’ve lived in Nashville for about five hours,. We pulled the U-Haul up around 9:30 tonight, lugged a few essentials through the sticky mid-July air, then collapsed on the mattress. As first impressions go, there’s really nothing like awakening after midnight to a neighborly cow slaughter, overhead.
Who’s up there? We don’t know. We don’t know anybody in Nashville. Never even been in Tennessee before. Our bottom half of a duplex was arranged for by a local realtor so we can look around for six months and get a feel for where in town we might really want to live. You know, If we live. I mean, I’ve heard the South’s a little different, but what’s this upstairs? Welcome Wagon?
We’ve moved here — this will astonish you — we’ve moved here for music. Bet you didn’t see that coming. Remember reel-to-reel? I’d spent the last couple of years dropping reel-to-reel songwriting demos in the mail, addressed to any Music Row publisher whose dorsal fin wasn’t overly obvious. It was kind of like throwing desperate little messages-in-a-bottle from the coast of northern California that somehow came ashore in shoreless Tennessee and, even stranger than that, found favor. How could we look on that as anything but an invitation?
So here we are — the first-nighters! — awakened in the dead of night by this disturbing low moan that just keeps going. We think about calling the cops, but — oh yeah — we just got here and this is 1981 and we don’t have a phone yet.
Unbelievably, we even consider knocking on the upstairs door (actually, the wife considers me knocking on the upstairs door), or making some noise of our own — and no, I’m not talking about that — to announce our presence. But we also consider that the next sacrificial offering would probably be us.
And surely there’s some logical explanation. Maybe the neighbor is just a Texan, who brought along quaint native customs when he high-tailed it out of Laredo, one step ahead of the law. Or maybe he makes bootleg barbeque. After midnight? Yeah, because he has a day job…as a butcher. Or maybe it’s nothing. Maybe he’s just an amateur zoologist, or a student of the mortuary arts. In the light of day, we’re sure — OK, hopeful — it will all make perfect sense.
So somehow we sleep, and wake in the morning. There’s a deathly quiet upstairs, and humidity like a shroud lurking right outside the front door. But we can’t just hide in here, we’ve got the rest of the U-Haul to unload — or come to our senses, reload what we took off last night and get the hell out of there.
Oops. Too late. Coming down the outside stairs. Sees us. Here he comes. Looks normal enough. So did Norman Bates. But there’s no conspicuous sidearms, no sword, no branding iron (the odds-on favorite), no demonic tattoos, no heathen accoutrement.
So what do I do? Prove once and for all that I’m a world-class idiot as I gingerly bring up last night’s sonic curiosities. He looks at me, the face of innocence. Noises?, he says. Noises? Then he cracks, confesses. Or at least he figures it out.
They’d passed out drunk, he and his roommate — as young men are “prone” to do — with their reel-to-reel — you remember reel-to-reel — their reel-to-reel running, at Spinal Tap volume. And when the tape rolled past the part recorded at one speed and into the part recorded at another, faster speed, with no one around to throw the switch … Presto! … it’s cow-killing time! [cue molasses-slow, contrabass “cow”: “Country Roads take me home, to the place I belong”] Hey, John Denver never sounded better. So there’s that.
The boys up above come to be our first friends in Nashville. Joe goes on to tour the world playing saxophone and harmonica for Dolly Parton. Dave becomes a founding member of the hit country band Restless Heart. Great guys. Wouldn’t hurt a cow.
And to me there’s a weird linearity to all this. A most unlikely journey begins with reel-to-reel tape in California, unspools across the country and at the other end there’s another reel-to-reel tape in Tennessee, an essential piece of a bizarre but somehow perfect welcome to Music City.
Here is the summary of Tenx9’s September theme “Nashville,” written by the brilliant Cary Gibson. This is the story we all told of our city.
This is Nashville. It’s a place where saving face is an art form. And, according to the late Miss Addie, it’s where a massage can be better than sex. Glory! Amen! She’d have said too, it’s a place of caring.
They call this Music City. It’s a place you are supposed to be. Where dreams can come true. But sometimes your dreams come slowly. Slow enough you might get lucky enough to experience the real city and its people, its harsh ugliness and crystalline beauty.
Nashville. We’ve come a long way from segregation, forced bussing, the punishment of the brave students of the sit-in movement. People, like James Lawson, carved out a continuing legacy of peace and justice making. Now they call us the “It City”. But that’s not the whole story. From North Nashville, this looks like two cities. Under the continuing legacy of white supremacy, this too is Nashville.
Because in this town, people struggle. Especially when they’ve nowhere to call home. Where “trespassing” so often depends on who you are, or the color of your skin. So that under the neon lights of lower Broadway, folks like Johnny are ticketed for existing. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, like Johnny, you’ll be met with subverting goodness. And you’ll make it. Be that goodness, Nashville.
Nashville can be a strange and startling place for the newcomer. The South sure is different. It’s the kind of place where nocturnal musicality can prove a bizarre and perfect welcome – where the sound of what you thought was cattle slaughter in the apartment above on your first night in town can be the basis of lasting, beautiful friendship.
Nashville. Home of the Occupied Plaza. A place where “truth” is a confusing, blurred, contested thing. A place of angels and devils. So you want to change politics. Or America. Sometimes what you get instead is frail, personal, stupid, human stories and encounter. So here’s to the creative misuse of the city. Let’s make this city a home.
This city where some, no, so many, are incarcerated. People like Marcus. Marcus dreamed of murder. This city of poverty. Neglect. Abuse. Perverse habilitation. Isolation. Where the prison cell is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Where a razor turned on the self is sometimes a man’s only voice. Where a man would kill to be heard. This too is Nashville.
For the preacher’s daughter from Appalachia, Nashville was less than impressive – a conformist, country music cliché. But it’s home of the rebel too. And rock ‘n’ roll. To find something like rebellion, back in the early 80s that white girl from the hills had to go to the Rivergate Mall. Which proves that some things do change. Keep changing, Nashville.
This city of cab drivers. And assumptions. Of “contemporary” Christian music & selling religion. A city with a non-stop supply of audiences. Does everyone here want to be famous? And if not famous, as close to fame as they can get so they might feel its cold, reflected glamor? This too is Nashville: people from Virginia and people from Kurdistan in conversation. Asking questions…
Whoever you are Nashville, know what is real. Be you. Be better. Better than famous. Be goodness. Be love. Be justice. Be peace.
For the theme “Nashville,” Katy Kinard shares tales from her days caring for the elderly.
Nashville… has brought me many Tenx9-type stories before Tenx9 existed.
It’s one thing I love about elderly care. There have been lessons learned, tear-jerking experiences, and memories told to me – and retold. And retold and retold and retold… lol, minds are not quite as sharp in this business… but some of MY favorite memories are the ones that brought spontaneous laughter at the time – and continue to make me laugh to this day.
The first home I was ever sent to was Ms. Addie P. Pepper – a feisty, full-of-life, slightly-irreverent woman who lived with her sister, Charlotte. Charlotte was actually the one declining; she had Alzheimer’s and the sweetest spirit as she’d sit by her upstairs window bellowing the wrong words to old gospel hymns all day long.
Addie and I talked all the time and I loved her. We’d discuss topics ranging from racial inequality to her former sex life, or to somewhat combine the two, she’d sit me down and make me watch “Waiting to Exhale” with her, which was… slightly awkward.
Their pastor would visit once a week, and I can’t forget one of the visits. He opened the door and Addie turned on her “church voice” – which had a great variety of inflections, sounded somehow holier and contained large amounts of syrup. “Praise the Lord, Reverend, so good to see you, come on in.”
“Thank you, Ms. Pepper. I hear Charlotte up there singing the good songs, as usual.”
“Oh yes, Reverend. CHARLOTTE, YOU SING IT OUT, BABY! KEEP ON SINGING THE PRAISES OF OUR LORD. PRAISE HIS NAME, SING IT OUT!”
When they finished visiting, Addie showed him to the door, and no sooner than the bolt was locked – her hand still on the doorknob – she yelled, “SHUT UP, CHARLOTTE! Katy, go get a popsicle out of the freezer and shove it in Charlotte’s mouth. ….(mumble)…Tired of that incessant caterwauling…”
I thought of a fun gift for Addie one Christmas. One of my friends was studying massage therapy and needed clients for practice. I asked her if they were allowed to give massages to people over 80 years old and frail. She said sure, so a couple of weeks later, Addie apparently had the best half hour of her life.
It started out quiet… little moans here and there. But the noises increased and got higher-pitched and more exaggerated and more embarrassing for me sitting out in the waiting room. I felt sorry for my masseuse friend and thought of ways I could mend our friendship over the next…year.
The appointment wrapped up, and Addie’s wiry body marched out of the waiting room and exclaimed, “Baby – that was BETTERTHANSEX! Woooo!”
Addie used to call me her adopted granddaughter.
Charlotte actually outlived her – to my surprise – and I cried as if she was my own grandmother.
Mary is the cutest little southern lady I know – and the most passive aggressive.
But to focus on her cuteness… She likes to make jokes, like when I say, “I need to use the bathroom,” she’ll say, “Bring it back, now!” 😉
I’ve always thought that was funny, but what’s even better is when I say, “I’ll be right back – I’m going to the restroom” – she’ll say “Bring it back!” even though the joke doesn’t apply there. 😀
I told Mary I liked her shoes one day, and she said, “Oh, yeah, I got that down in the holler.”
Me: “In the holler? haha how cute, where’s the holler?”
Mary: “You know, that mall they done had over there a while back. Hickory Holler?…”
She likes the word “poke.” She uses it like:
“My husband… He could grow anything he poked in the ground. Anything he poked in the ground just growed up!!”
“Why don’t you poke that food in the microwave? Just poke it in there, I can eat it for lunch.”
Elderly people crack me up when it comes to saving face. You gotta do it – at all costs – especially when it comes to someone implying that your mind (or eyesight or hearing) is less than sharp.
Mary and I were watching The Price is Right, commenting on Drew Carey:
Mary: “He’s got arthritis in his hands and in his arm – I can tell it hurts him real bad and I know how he feels! My foot gets to hurting; you know, I can tell when it’s gonna rain!”
Me: “Hmm… Why do you think he has arthritis?”
Mary: “The way he’s holding his arm and his hand all crippled up like that, you can just tell he’s in pain.”
Me: “…OHH… haha, well I think he’s actually just holding a little microphone – It kinda blends in with his black jacket, but see, he’s holding the mic down by his stomach because it’s such a tall skinny mic, he can’t hold it close to his face.”
Mary: “Well… I’m not saying I’m a doctor or anything, I’m just saying those are tell-tale signs of arthritis.”
Me: “But… you know what I mean, right? That he’s holding a microphone and that’s why his arm and hands are curved?”
Mary: “Well… neither one of us are doctors. I’m not saying I know for SURE, I’m just saying.”
One of the funniest, most surprising cases of “saving face” happened with one the sweetest elderly women I’ve ever known – Edith. She had declining dementia, and sometimes we had to guide her choices.
Her son and I were helping her with dinner when we realized she had picked up her crumpled up napkin instead of her roll and brought it to her mouth to eat. We quickly took action:
“Oh no, Edith, that’s your napkin, did you mean to eat the roll instead? See, that’s just your wadded up napkin.”
She looked at the wad, thought for a second, and said, “I know” and took a bite and started chewing.
The most memorable moments seemed to happen at mealtime. She took a drink of tomato soup instead of her coffee (which was in the same kind of plastic mug), and declared, “That’s terrible coffee.”
It was scary one time – Edith was literally choking on a bite of grilled cheese sandwich for nearly 30 seconds, then coughing/slightly choking for a few minutes, eyes watering and face beet red… the nurse, the techs, all of us rushing around her…
Then she paused afterward, like nothing happened.
We’re all staring at her, wide-eyed.
“That tastes good,” she said, and took another bite.
Josh was not elderly. He was only 33 years old and battled a disease that continually formed tumors in his brain. Surgery started getting too risky, as he’d already lost his hearing from one of them, and because the new tumors would push against different places in his brain, it started permanently affecting mobility, eyesight, sense of touch… I truly thought of Josh as the modern day Job – if there ever has been one.
Josh had a quick wit, though, loved sarcasm, and was even a bit flirtatious; he usually spoke at a normal volume, despite his lack of hearing.
One day, Josh was taking a nap, and I was quietly reading a book in the chair beside the bed. The house was empty and the only sound was a couple of chirping birds outside the window.
I had never heard Josh talk in his sleep before, and he never snored, so you can imagine how high I jumped in my chair when I heard:
“Ready!… Aim!… FIIIIRE!!” (hand in the air to command troops)- right back to sleep.
In the words of a recent hymn, I can’t wait to “laugh on glory’s side” with these friends that have gone on before me – and all the new friends that Nashville will send my way.
Here is the poetically written story from Jordan Chism at Tenx9’s September event “Nashville.” She writes of moving to Nashville from NYC and her experiences adjusting to the new city.
I knew within the first couple days of visiting Nashville that this was where I was supposed to be. Nature itself seemed to know Nashville’s nickname was “Music City” and acted accordingly. Brooklyn, where I had been living, feigned its own life song with the never-ending bustle below my fire escape, but even the people seemed to move mechanically. It was, overall, much too commercial for my preference. Everyone spoke with the grandiloquence of being somebody, and I was lost somewhere in the engine. I longed for real houses with real basements, real yards, real moonshine, real long-haired musicians who didn’t just wear motorcycle jackets, but actually rode the motorcycles. Nashville harkened to my small-city-Reno roots and still had all the opportunity of New York.
I had the foolproof plan of bringing to Music City all that I learned at the record label in Brooklyn, instantaneously starting my own indie label, all the while discovering the hidden musical regalia of East Nashville, and even releasing my own full-length album that very year. Of course this was all to be funded by invisible investors who would see my radiating drive and passion the way some clairvoyants say they see auras.
The dichotomy of my exceedingly extravagant dreams and my real, jobless life in between dead-end temp assignments that first year was something I chose not to acknowledge for many months. It finally dawned on me, as I was making out patterns in the water-stained walls of my weeping apartment, while staring at a dinner of seasoned rice for the fifth consecutive night, that if I was to have feasts with the excess flowing from my table to all the mouths of the homeless in the city, as well as fund all my friends’ albums, and be the owner of a speed boat the way I regularly was in my imagination, I was probably going to have to succumb to a nine-to-five for a while, but where I wondered?
My income became bolstered with a part-time serving position at my beloved Boswell’s Harley Davidson Grill. Among other reasons I adored this job was that I felt like it gave me street-cred with the bikers (even though I wouldn’t be caught dead on the back of one of those death traps). Shenanigans abounded. The head waitress was Sparkle, who’s Christian name I never learned, a 65 yr. old, trike-riding, Scottie-dog loving, marvelous cartoon character of a dame. My most-treasured memory of her was when she mixed some cleaners together and accidentally made mustard gas. And then there was Emad, the Egyptian cook who had moved here to save up in order to bring his wife and twin toddlers over. He worked three jobs, often 16 hour days, and never got a day off. Emad taught me so much about work ethic and Egyptian curse words. This crash-course taught me sayings that would make Cleopatra roll over in her sarcophagus, and we often used my new vocab to secretly talk smack. Everyone worked hard there and everyone was equal. When the occasional hoity- toity, weekend warrior rode in and ordered me around like I was his indentured receptionist, “My Good Man,” I’d say, and let him have all the reasons I wasn’t. Or when someone would make a comment about my chest, he’d also get a free lesson with his meal. Yes, as long as I didn’t talk politics there, I could be the spitfire I was. I sometimes wonder, if my dreams were to all come true, whether or not I’d just wish I was waitressing there again the way Mark Twain had wished he was just a steam boat captain after he gained all his fame and glory.
In the same way that my job at the grill gave me a true taste of biker culture, my front desk assignments around the city gave me a genuine taste of what the rest of Nashville had to offer. Some experiences were sweet, some bitter-sweet, and some like vinegar. There were the accounting firms whose clients revealed their generous hearts around the holidays while others made me feel so negligible during the stressful tax season. One man complained in my presence that he might as well quit all his hard work and just be a receptionist like this poor girl for all he was paying in taxes. I came across instances like this more often than I’d like to admit.
Swathed in the familiar air of burnt coffee, I witnessed the inner-workings of all kinds of businesses as their visions birthed a reality of prosperity or collapse. I saw the rising solar glow in a former addict’s eyes as he prepared to leave treatment, and I smelled the newborn roses brought to another patient by her Sunday visitors at my favorite of assignments (which I would later get permanently hired at): a drug abuse treatment facility. I heard grandiose Navy tales and whistled tunes of glory from security guards. I also heard the frustrations through the broken English of a crisp uniform-clad housekeeper who worked a superhuman schedule to feed her children in another, less agreeable assignment. In freshly shined windows, I saw the golden flash of an executive’s watch as he gestured that the housekeeper was taking too long on the windows. He continued to suggest that she knew nothing because she knew little English. I saw the housemaid’s crestfallen countenance in that same reflection. It was the look I had been catching in my own reflection.
The frustrations I began to feel in these assignments were unparalleled to any of my former experiences. This impenetrable fog of nobodiness loomed for hours after awakening every morning. When it lifted, and I allowed myself to fantasize in the fresh light, I imagined my dreams floating up into the ether, getting muddled with everyone else’s dreams into chaotic, gray storm clouds, ready to sprinkle a lucky rain on a select few, and I was among the few less and less frequently in these visions. The somebodies were plentiful – executives with golden watches, musicians with Ivy League degrees that not only had the finest gear, they knew how to fix their own vintage amps, the kind I was too afraid to touch for fear of electrocuting myself. I became so tired of having to prove myself before given the chance to prove myself. This city was starting to feel overwhelming and over-saturated. I let myself dwell in self-pity for months. By the time I marked my two years in Music City, I was too enmeshed in my own pride and hidden self-doubt that I stopped hearing the song of the city, the mockingbird was as much a nuisance as the switchboards I had to answer. I was ready to pack up and move home.
But then something supernatural happened, and similar instances continue to happen, the sorcery of them planting my feet to the ground like they’re magnetized to the city. I went to a party that turned into an informal house show, and was moved to tears, convinced that the singer was really an angel, the fiddler a magician, the guitar player a deity, and the bassist and drummer some kind of alien hybrid. Oh, the magic! And some nights I’d just walk past a bar and stop in the street, unaware that I was holding up traffic, because the musicians in this dirty dive bar had enchanted the most exhausted, discouraged corners of my soul.
Yes, Nashville had revealed its ugly side, it’s pretentious side, just like Brooklyn and every other city I had lived in (and run from, and heaven knows there had been a few), because human nature has an ugly side and we do have a lot of humans in this town. Maybe I hated arrogance so much because I have so much of it, but my ego doesn’t want to admit it. Maybe the somebodies I came across felt misunderstood, too, and maybe they’re trying to prove themselves, too, projecting their self-doubt onto others like I’ve caught myself doing more than once. Surely they’ve awakened to the desolate fog more often than they’ve let on, but somehow they make it out victorious.
Nashville’s ugly side is outshined by its magical side, well, less a side than a polished, multi-planed crystal. When it catches light, it casts lustrous colors which brighten the darkest places within me and is so stunning and incomparable to anything else I’ve known. In authentic Nashville song, you audibly experience other people’s dreams, and these dreams aren’t all muddled and muddied the way I let mine occasionally get. These songs are the manifestations, in their purest forms, of something human beings envisioned together once pride was set aside, the competition stopped, and they just let their souls jam the eff out. It is unity and beauty and creation- a miracle. Music City has succeeded in doing what no other city had been capable of – it has trapped me in its love song.
The legendary Geoff Little shares a story at Tenx9’s September theme “Nashville.” The story tells of an conversation with an Iraqi taxi driver at the Nashville airport that went differently than he expected.