1/23/11

I'm Not An Actress But I Play One On TV

I was hoping that by this juncture in my life that I would be an actress who had a fascinating career and now took roles that had interesting parts for me. My home address would be Malibu California. Out my backdoor, out my sliding stained glass doors that lead out to the pool and to the ocean and beach. On my Italian marble mantle in my luxurious all white sunken living room, would be my Oscar, surrounded by framed photographs of me and my husband, John Travolta.



As it turns out, that didn’t happen. Can’t imagine where I took that wrong turn in my career path, but I am not a famous actress. Oh well, I may not live 87 feet from the Pacific Ocean, but I do live in a town that has a body of water in its name and I live close to a famous river.


I started my career of minor careers at a little place called Oilfield Exchange. It had the distinction of being the oldest answering service in Lafayette. We also ran Western Union in Lafayette. I started out on grave shift, 11pm to 7am. Started out? They wouldn’t let me off it, which resulted in my employment at Answering Service of Lafayette. After they hooked me in by promising no grave, they flattered me into working it and I was too na├»ve to even negotiate a raise out of it. After not being able to break free I bounced over to A&M. Oilfield Exchange courted me back there, that reconciliation was an abomination and finally I found myself at Telephone Answering Bureau.


They were reluctant to hire me at TAB; I had worked so many places in the short time between May 78 and Feb 80. I was a good operator, but I was young, wild and a little full of myself. I made rash decisions, I was immature, my mouth wrote checks my ass couldn’t cash. I was sort of insufferable; I don’t know how anyone stood me. I had a hard time standing me.





I have an excuse, I was hungover. This is Oilfeild Exchange.



I found a niche at TAB. It was the largest answering service in Louisiana, with 16 switchboards. We answered phones for many types of businesses, but the main thing was oilfield service companies and the city medical community. Yes, if you could work board 3 and 4, the Doctor’s Boards, you were the shit around there, and guess who was THE Shiz-it, of course, Young Adult Vi. If you could work those boards, you were fast and accurate, had a good memory, a rapport with doctors who are generally grumpy oldish curmudgeonly men, but some are bright young things that are usually pleasant. The Oil boards operators were just as fast, but the doctors boards were crazy. The people on the other ends of the Oil Board’s cords were easy going, possibly half inebriated men, jaded by their oilfield experience, jauntily flirting with the operator, Boards 3 and 4 operators dealt with frantic mothers of newborns, brusque nurses from various intensive care rooms around the city or tired overworked doctors. It was extremely nerve wracking and I had a prescription for a mild tranquilizer that I took when things got too overwhelming. A pissed off doctor will yell at you like a hysterical bridezilla if you mess up. Some, not all, but those that would were a pain in the ba donkey donk. Toward the end of the shift, as sick babies finally slept and tired doctors were able to finish rounds, the boards cooled down and you could wind down a little before getting off for the night.


These pics are from 2 different locations of A&M


I met so many women that influenced me in different ways in those years. I say women, as it was almost exclusively women. Crusty old broads, sassy but sage black women, women in relationships with married men and young women discovering the freedom of being an adult with none of the responsibilities, girls like me. Uptight women, married women who looked over their spectacles in loud disgust over young pot smoking blue jean wearing beatniks. Women who hated men, women who loved men, any man, all men, as many men as possible. Divorcees, single mothers, women who had no children, but had tiny lap dogs that were eternal babies. Women who smoked too much, women who drank, women who needed a drink and women who drove others to drink.


With this age of internet in your pocket digital pictures phones the size of compacts age we live in, the answering services I worked for have to be nothing like they were in that heyday at the end of the oilfield boom. We answered a phone, reached the person on call at a number they’d left, or perhaps we’d beeped them on a device that send our voices over. “Call your answering service”. It was before Caller ID and Call Forwarding. It was before answering machines. We did have touch tone key pads on our switchboards, we weren’t cave women. Only Oilfield Exchange had rotary dial switchboards.


I wonder what happened to all those ladies I worked with. I have been able to successfully find two or three over the web and they don’t seem to be caught up to the internet age yet. The lady who sat next to me whenever I was on board 4, as she always sat on board 8 ( For some unknown reason the boards on that side of the room were in order, left to right 10, 1 , 2, 3 , 4, 8, 5, 6 and 16. Missing numbers were on the other side of the room.) She reeked of perfume, I hated sitting next to her, perfume makes my throat close, in large doses. She wore so much to cover the gin, I guess. I wonder if she’s still living, but I guess she’d be near 90 if she is. The lady originally from Oklahoma who was a roly poly short woman who had diabetes and was not supposed to use salt. She loved salt, she wouldn’t give it up. She said she’d rather die happy that live a life of bland food. Where’s that girl that could pass for Sissy Spacek’s twin, who was blissfully pregnant with her boyfriend’s baby. Her boyfriend that was almost full blooded Indian, and was killed in a bar fight before the baby was born. They were so in love, such a striking couple, a small girlish woman and a tall dark man with long silky black hair. Where’s that woman who pinned all her hopes and wasted her youth on a married man who kept promising to leave his wife and begin a new life with her. He finally did leave his wife, to be with a third woman, who he cheated on his wife and his girlfriend with.


I worked at TAB until I moved back to MS in ’86. (1983 was Arizona year, I was able to walk with into the job I’d left) I did some growing up there. I learned about life through the eyes of others, you learn a lot about people and their pasts sitting next to them eight hours at a time, day after day.



Anyway, I really do have an Oscar on my mantle. All is not lost.


1/8/11

Happy Birthday, El

If there was ever a celebrity I was “raised on”, as we say in the South, it’s Elvis Presley.


My Aunt loved him from the moment she knew of his existence. Dot always claimed to not really care for him, but that was just her wanting to be contrary and different, as was her way. When you spend over $50 on a book about a dead guy, you like him.


The Cousins and I heard Elvis music from birth, there are probably thousands of kids that can make this claim. In the age before internet, before VCRs even, 8 tracks, what’s that? We listened to vinyl Elvis. The first movie I saw in a theater, rather than a drive-in, was an Elvis movie, Fun in Acapulco. It was in Opelousas LA, and I remember being shocked when we got out that it was still daylight outside. It was dark in the theater, and I was sure it was night time.

I’ve always joked that you couldn’t be in my family if you weren’t up on your Elvis facts. That’s not exactly true, but over the years we have picked up an intense amount of Elvis trivia. I won’t bore you with any here, cos chances are you know some on your own, or you totally do not care.

1973 was the year they showed Aloha from Hawaii on TV. In 1974 my aunt and grandmother got to see his concert at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis. Needless to say, the Aloha from Hawaii had semi permanent possession of the turn table. We knew every word of that album, every breath, nuance, every mention of Kathy Westmoreland and the Sweet Inspirations. “I hope these pants don’t tear up, Baby.”


Then that sad day in August 77 when E expired, he was only 42. On the Lafayette stations and the newspaper let us know everything we needed or didn’t really need to know about the entire situation. I think it may have been the precursor the media blitz that consumes any newsworthy happenings these days.


Moving back to North Mississippi, which is inches from Memphis, in 86, we were settled in just in time for the big 10th anniversary of Elvis’ official leaving of the building. My mother, who didn’t like Elvis, as you’ll recall, taped all movies played, watched all live coverage. It was like nothing I’d ever seen; now we see this type of thing all the time.

When you encounter someone who has never been down this way, their first question about Memphis is about Elvis or Graceland or death week. Elvis Death Week, it’s embarrassing, you must roll your eyes all the way back into your head at the very mention of it. OMG the things people will do. You can’t fault the powers that be for going on with it, year after year. It’s a big money maker. In some twisted way, it keeps Memphis on the map, and you wanna always be on the map.


Okay, now forget all that and let’s concentrate on the man and his music.


Vi’s favorite Elvis song? I can’t pick just one. His gospel recordings are goose bump inducing. His Christmas album is awesome. Once Elvis did a cover of a song, even just goofing off, or a little live ditty, it became his. I can’t think of one cover I’ve ever heard El sing that didn’t blow the original away. He could sing as well in a live setting as with slick producing on a finished recording. Even singing in a language he didn’t speak, it’s as if he’s been singing that way all his life. He had the best backup singers. He couldn’t stay still, soul and emotion oozed out of every pore. Even as I am writing this, I am finding songs and performances on You Tube I was unaware existed that are awesome. Elvis movies, eh, I only care for the musical numbers.


My kids have only ever held Elvis in medium esteem. Oh sure they like a few of his songs, who couldn't like some of them. A couple of weeks ago, the afternoon DJ on 98.1 here in Memphis was playing an Elvis song, probably a Christmas song, a couple of weeks ago was Christmas time. Anyway, it might have been part of her daily “Relationship Roulette” game, because she was talking to a younger listener and she was telling him he would have to get a little older before he could appreciate Elvis. Chris said, “You know, that’s true, Mama. I used to think Elvis was stupid, I’ve always liked some of his songs, but I could never get into him the way you do, but lately …..” Then the subject changed, you know how conversations progress. Maybe Mel can grow into her inner Elvis, too. After she gets over the screamo, death metal, makes Gwar look like The Jonas Brothers music (?) genre phase.

Here is the official Elvis.com website.

I am going to leave you with this with this performance from the ’68 Come Back Special that says it all.

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1/1/11

Ring It In and Bring It On

Midnight. 1/1/1977. I am standing at an open window in an apartment on the not quite, but just almost, seedy side of Lafayette. There was a bar across the street. We had no phone. If you had to make an emergency phone call, you had to go to the pay phone in the bar. I was 16, but that didn’t matter. It was Louisiana, back when the legal age was 18. I was a busty big girl at 16, I had no trouble passing for 18.

I was alone at midnight 1/1/77. I was very sad and in a morose mood. It had been a bad year, 1976, or a t least it ended badly. Evil Ann took our possessions and claimed them for her own and had us kicked out of the house we shared on a little side street in Broussard. We spend a couple of weeks in the Acadian Motel before moving in with one of Dot’s offshore/drinking buddies. Sybil was a floozy, Dotty West look alike, rode hard put up wet kinda gal. Living also in the two bedroom apartment was Sybil’s “Can’t commit to being a lesbian, I just like to say I am one” daughter and her ex-beauty queen daughter who could turn anything into an accessory. She was like the MacGyver of the Suzanne Sugarbaker set.
I was alone at the apartment, I had the bedroom window open and I stared out into the night. I could see the back of a pretty nice neighborhood. It was as if the houses were turning their backs on the low rent apartments and bars, shunning us like pissed off Amish people.

It was cold that night, I remember the fog of my breath when I exhaled. 1976 had seen me displaced, living out of Comeaux’s district, my mother had to drive me to school every day in a Ford that had no heater and would shimmy if you topped speed 35. The first round of firecrackers heralded in 1977, from the neighborhood. So 1976 had left the building, Thank You! The last few months had been so dark and unsettling that I could feel tears of relief pooling in my eye sockets.
From the right of me, in that neighborhood, a lone trumpet played Taps. I cried freely, it was such a high lonesome sound, so like my mood that it seemed providence had brought us together. The night was so calm and clear, no wind, everything completely still. Father Time ’76 crept away on tired old feet while Baby New Year ’77 crept in on unbruised dimpled knees.
New Years Eve has always had a sore spot with me, I always ended up alone, greeting the year with Dick Clark. Once married, I swore I’d never be alone New Years Ever again. Once back in Mississippi, I've never spent NYE alone.
From NYE 87-95, the New Years Party was at my house, it was muh thang. The ringing in of 1995 was to be our last shindig, there was a planned mutiny and I jumped ship before it could happen.
Now it’s not so important I be with someone at New Years minute. Long ago and fat away is the time I had a sweetheart to smooch at midnight. I’ve even slept through it a couple of years. I’m always a little sad at year’s end, an old friend passing. I’m always hopeful that the New Year will bring happiness.




Auld Lang Syne, the international "New Year" song, always makes me a little misty. The melody is haunting and beautiful and the words true. Happy New year to you and keep your old aquaintances close to your heart. Also, keep your heart open, you never know when a new friend is going to walk in.