Birmingham: Visit with Friends

Wednesday, September 14th, 2005 | Film, Food, Friends, Travel

I made my way to James’ new digs in Crestwood, a gay bachelor pad seamlessly woven into a comfy middle class milieu, that he shares with two other dudes. Aside from the guy sleeping on his bed when I arrived, he’s also seeing a Russian dude who lives down the street whose name sounds like “florist” without the “fl,” and a “fuzzy bear guy.” James, now waiting tables and moonlighting his prodigious talents as wigmaster and costume designer, is never far from mass quantities of physical attention. Indeed, he yawned frequently at dinner, prompting my question, “The guy on the bed?” and his affirmative nod. James’ status as a fugitive from justice is near an end, so soon he’ll be able to visit California again without the fear of being apprehended. James and I have gone years at a time without keeping in touch, but we share a connection unhindered in the slightest by distance of time or space. In high school I felt obliged to accommodate his attraction to me, and let him advance his talents upon my person one night. I wasn’t terribly interested, but at that age biology rolls along independent of thought, and roll along I did, for something like 3 hours. His interest, knowledge and dexterity astounded me, but I was saving my heart for Potsie, who, unbeknownst to me at the time, was to toss it out the winder and onto the freeway shoulder where it would be flattened with the other road kill in the coming months.

Susan and her daughter Casey, who is a dead ringer for Reese Witherspoon, came over for a brief visit with my mom and dad, and then they swept me away to the Cedar Post Restaurant for eggs, grits, sausage, and biscuits, and then a drive around town. The town that we grew up in, Susan and I, is called Pinson. Its recent incorporation as a real city, with a mayor and everything, was prompted by Birmingham’s annexation of nearly every surrounding township. Unfortunately, Pinson’s status as a city has been accompanied by a complete loss of civic visual identity. The charming old buildings downtown were bulldozed to make way for shopping plazas that have already gone bust. Triangle Park is still there, but with no context since they widened the highway. The Old Rock School is now just the face of a megachurch called the Rock Solid Church. Attaching a new building to the old mimics the vernacular use of field stones to face the sides of buildings or foundations. I suppose it’s nice that they saved the old rock school, but my attachment to community and place seems to be a quaint romantic and outmoded alternative to progress and convenience.

Anyway, Susan is a neo-gothic heroine who slaves away at two minimum-wage jobs to pay the mortgage on her trailer and support her two kids and decidedly less ambitious husband. She has a brilliant wit and is a writer of extraordinary talents, yet her novel remains unfinished. Often times when I visit her, I listen to her richly embellished and ornamented tales of life in Pinson and dread the moment when she says, “Well, I’d better get on home…” I have yet to meet her husband, well, since he said he’d kill me and all, but he seems to have mellowed since the divorce, remarriage, and his wife coming out, and maybe next time we’ll finally get to connect. He told Susan of his fears that she was probably going to up and leave him and run off to San Francisco with me. She’s Cinderella in that trailer, with absolutely no idea that in San Francisco she would be a queen.

April, whom I visited later in the afternoon, is, I think, one of the great southern beauties, with an uncanny resemblance to Ricky Lee Jones. We sipped wine on the veranda of her beautiful old brick house near Highland Park, and swatted mosquitos while talking of our impending middle age and various ailments.

I was deeply humbled by my visits with James and Susan, and how hard they have to work, and how much real talent lies fallow due to the distractions of survival and the lack of creative outlet. April seems very comfy and happy, with a doting husband, great kids, and solid teaching career.

Next Chapter… The Men of Pinson Valley.

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