Life on The Branch Through the Eyes of R.P. Saffire, Excerpted from her Once-Sabotaged Manuscript
Photo (above): Grayson Capps on the tractor at Waterhole Branch, making a contrarian face (Jared’s school bus in the background)
Introduction by Suzanne Hudson:
I have known Ruby Pearl Saffire, my “little old lady” friend, for well over a decade--have known of her struggles to get her original manuscript, Second Sluthood: Being a Manifesto for the Post-Menopausal, Pre-Senilic Matriarch, published and enjoyed by throngs of little old ladies everywhere. I, like so many others, have been captivated by her humor, imagination, and life force. Her original manuscript is an exhilarating hodgepodge of fictional memoir outlining her bizarre upbringing, marital betrayal, and a late-in-life romance with a mysterious detective named Scarpete; a few badly-written songs; edgy and high-larious social commentary; poetry and parody; and self-help, with twenty-seven “Tenets” as rules for living the good life, taking the “s” word (“slut”) and transforming it from demeaning to liberating. And yes, she writes about the sabotage of said manuscript in the second, embellished edition of her book, title as yet undetermined, due out this summer. She writes about falling in with those whose life forces tend toward the Dark Arts, about one woman in particular, whom she names in the book but I will simply refer to as “Annie Wilkes” (with a nod and a thank you to Stephen King). We’ve all known an Annie Wilkes, one who so reeks of toxicity that our first impulse is to run like a politician on steroids . . . yet there have been those unfortunate times when we were snookered, sucked in, had our ego stroked in such a way as to disregard reason at our peril. And it happened to Miss Ruby. She put her trust in someone who saw her as a meal ticket, a talent to be leeched upon, a good heart to push around, and an independent spirit to be broken and exploited for personal gain. Annie Wilkes--manipulative, pathologically controlling, deceitful, bullying, covetous, and cripplingly insecure--was that singular narcissistic-sociopathic salad of crazy, with some borderline personality disorder tossed in with the croutons. Of course, Miss Ruby survived and thrives, with good humor, as always. Of Annie, Miss Ruby simply says, “She has all of the maturity of a fifth grader, the insight of an amoeba, and the social intelligence of an eggplant.” I do love Miss Ruby. And I am humbled and honored that she not only asked me to introduce this “Note,” but to write the introduction to the second, embellished, edition--and even to travel with her a bit to promote the new book. We’ll see you, for example, at the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge this fall and will keep you informed as other dates are confirmed. Meanwhile, take a look at an excerpt from Chapter 10 of the original book, written in 2009, from the chapter titled: of her book, title as yet undetermined, due out this summer. She writes about falling in with those whose life forces tend toward the Dark Arts, about one woman in particular, whom she names in the book but I will simply refer to as “Annie Wilkes” (with a nod and a thank you to Stephen King). We’ve all known an Annie Wilkes, one who so reeks of toxicity that our first impulse is to run like a politician on steroids . . . yet there have been those unfortunate times when we were snookered, sucked in, had our ego stroked in such a way as to disregard reason at our peril. And it happened to Miss Ruby. She put her trust in someone who saw her as a meal ticket, a talent to be leeched upon, a good heart to push around, and an independent spirit to be broken and exploited for personal gain. Annie Wilkes--manipulative, pathologically controlling, deceitful, bullying, covetous, and cripplingly insecure--was that singular narcissistic-sociopathic salad of crazy, with some borderline personality disorder tossed in with the croutons. Of course, Miss Ruby survived and thrives, with good humor, as always. Of Annie, Miss Ruby simply says, “She has all of the maturity of a fifth grader, the insight of an amoeba, and the social intelligence of an eggplant.” I do love Miss Ruby. And I am humbled and honored that she not only asked me to introduce this “Note,” but to write the introduction to the second, embellished, edition--and even to travel with her a bit to promote the new book. We’ll see you, for example, at the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge this fall and will keep you informed as other dates are confirmed. Meanwhile, take a look at an excerpt from Chapter 10 of the original book, written in 2009, from the chapter titled: My Domain: A Single Tax Colony--In Alabama?!?
She can certainly show you a thing or two about living.
From R.P. Saffire:
And speaking of showing you a thing or two, I would be remiss in the description of my domain if I did not include my own private little corner of the world, where strangeness is celebrated, where the river comes in to be a branch, which passes my house to further upstream become a mere trickle.
I like this quiet place, laced in the Spanish moss that drips from giant oaks. It is the antithesis of excess and the cacophonous clamor of fast living. It is so magical there is even a song about it (just Google “Grayson Capps-Waterhole Branch”), and a mystery book (just Google “Lucas Wright-Waterhole Branch”) and it is the setting for Tenet Number Twenty-two: Thou shalt follow the teachings of the Mayor of Waterhole Branch, Alabama, who has this sign posted on his property:
“Be It Said Here Now:
“The inhabitants of this piece of earth’s land have seceded from all forms and levels of government. All are welcome regardless of social class, race, religion, political ideology, ideas of morality, level of education, economic status, state of mind, mood, mental condition, sexual preference/orientation, attire, marital status, age, habits, feelings of superiority or inferiority, degree of gullibility, weight, height, physical abilities or lack thereof, interests, type of personality, prejudices, intellect, spiritual bent, vocabulary, criticisms felt, legal status, ethnicity, reputation, and so forth.
“Here there are no laws. However, anyone and all who mistreat any being, either real or imagined, above, below, or upon the land, will be quietly but forcefully required to leave.
“ Thusforth, our one rule: Be nice.”
The mayor is my neighbor, a delightful, curmudgeonly, womanizing, insane, aging boomer who writes books, turns junk piles into art, makes mobiles and wind chimes out of all kinds of things—old jewelry, women’s shoes, deconstructed typewriters, clarinets, pianos, beer cans, whatever—does paintings on plywood and canvas and hangs them everywhere (even on the outside of his house, an old, old asbestos tile-sided, tin-roofed domicile); who at one point dug a moat around his porch; who has a mannequin sitting in one of his trees; and I have not even scratched the surface in describing his place. He has built a stage, dubbed “The Play-like Playhouse,” behind his garage; and hosts an event called “The Annual Shoe-burning” each year. The mayor has an intimate connection with New Orleans through Grayson Capps, a wonderful, raspy-voiced, bluesy musician who had to re-locate to Tennessee after Katrina. The mayor is, of course, crazy, but his life and philosophy inspired the next three tenets of Successful Sluthood (as well as the previous Tenet Fourteen). These are
Tenet Twenty-three: Thou shalt celebrate thy insanity;
Tenet Twenty-four: Thou shalt not become attached to Stuff; and
Tenet Twenty-five: Thou shalt not be impressed by celebrity, fame, or fortune.
Sluts are not afraid to go fruitcake-y with abandon, recognizing that living in the moment is the only kind of life that makes sense in a nonsensical world filled with seconds strung end upon end until the end comes, and it will. Care not what those wound-up walking wounded amongst us might think; simply be in the millisecond, and if that should mean flinging off one’s clothing to take a skinny dip in Waterhole Branch or screwing up one’s courage and climbing a tree as a nod to childhood (do mind you don’t fall and break a hip), standing upon one’s head just for the hell of it, or you name it. Dare to be crazy. Immerse yourself in sensuality. Dive from an imaginary Hawaiian cliff into “divine decadence” (thank you, Sally Bowles). When you go before the Lord or the head guy/girl/being presiding over whichever version of Heaven you choose, be prepared to say: “You know, head guy/girl/being, I appreciate the life you gave me because I enjoyed the hell out of as much of it as possible.”
And if you do not believe in heaven, just create a bit of it right here, right now. Who in his right mind would call that insane?
Real insanity, the mayor might say, is being a slave to Stuff, that American tradition of buying more and more and more and bigger and bigger and bigger and supposedly, but usually not, better. The mayor maintains that stuff is not even real, but is a figment of the imagination, since nothing at all exists but thought.
I say that, just in case this all is real, to be so enamored of “the stuff” seems a sad waste of energy, given that it is only a superficial manifestation of that which can only come from within our selves, the kind of fulfillment and peace and contentment that one can come to at any phase in life (witness yours truly). The stuff will certainly not follow us into the afterlife, unless you subscribe to the “if you’re a Pharaoh the stuff can go” or to the old “seventy-two virgins” (or is it “olives”?) kind of heaven.
Therefore, the mayor has always maintained that if Americans wanted to experience real freedom here in the Land of the Free, they would cast off the shackles of the banks and credit card companies by declaring freedom from so much stuff—declaring their independence, that they require precious little in order to be happy in this life.
Sadly ironic, isn’t it, that we are so set on gorging on the myriad of stuff in our culture while so many in the world are hard pressed to get water? Is it that perceived bigness of America, the sense of unending stuff? Or is it that the aforementioned financial institutions are in cahoots with advertisers and a media obsessed with fanning the flames of greed--even the greed for attention, i.e., fame? Hmm. This brings us to the Twenty-fifth Tenet, a warning to resist the American obsession with the creepy culture of celebrity. Because, hey, do we really gotta know what’s going on with Brittney or Angelina or Paris or Taylor or the missing white girl du jour?
Now I will admit that my friends and I, like typical girlfriends everywhere, will fall into the celebrity dish of the moment and have some fun with it; I am not stupid enough to believe one can avoid it completely without going into a Tibetan monastery, and even then . . . well, those madcap monks might just be incense-sniffing, lotus-sitting People and Okay! magazine addicts for all I know. In fact, I like to take a dip in the pop waters from time to time, just to check what the currents are doing, which way the lemmings are being pulled. And let’s face it, fame impresses, seems a little bigger than life, draws us in to something we perceive as special. As a result, I, like anyone else, can list all the famous and semi-famous people I have ever met (not merely seen, as in, in concert, but met, as in, a proper introduction and the shaking of the hands; shaking the hand of a famous politician, even with an introduction, however, also does not qualify; it is too mundane). My very short list (only of the famous, not the semi-famous, and not counting politicians or writers met at, lo, the gazillions of conferences attended, or regional “celebrities”; and the chronological gap in said list speaks to my decades of hiding) goes like this: Jerry Lee Lewis, Joe Namath, one of Jackie Onassis’s interior designers (okay, it was a degree of separation, but it’s Jackie O), someone who was on the Oprah Winfrey show many years ago, and another someone who was on more recently (the “someones’” names are irrelevant because, hey, it’s Oprah), and John Travolta (Hey, he’s been on Oprah, too—wow—that’s three Oprah connections! What are the odds?!?). I suppose that whether this is perceived as a long or a short list is relative, and my only point in making it is to marvel at the fact that I remembered it at all (being of an age) as well as to make a confession: the most recent meeting of a famous person, Travolta, was the most disturbing to me, as it came on the heels of my rebirth, and, I thought, my ability to resist such foolishness. It also came via my association with the Mayor of Waterhole Branch.
The Mayor wrote several novels, never published, decades ago, manuscripts which lived and yellowed in a trunk until Grayson, the musician, put up some documentary filmmakers “passing through town” at his New Orleans hovel. Upon finding out one of them wanted to make a movie set in New Orleans, Grayson drove them to Alabama and dug out one of the manuscripts, a novel called A Cream-White Occurrence Off Magazine Street, which became Off Magazine Street when it was published right around the release of the movie, A Love Song For Bobby Long, named after a song written by Grayson, who provided more music for the soundtrack, and ultimately invited his mother and me to watch some of the filming. Thus the meeting with John Travolta, and I do recall reaching up (I was sitting in one of those requisite chairs with the movie title printed on its canvas back) and shaking his hand, and standing, but being sort of pulled up (by him, mid-handshake) at the same time, rising into these unbelievably blue eyes, and I swear, the effect was of a camera zooming in on a close-up of something (the eyes) that had been culturally conditioned into me and, of course, I responded like any typical heterosexual woman or gay man would, by maintaining a semblance of control while thinking: Honey, you (meaning J.T.) sure as hell are pretty. Whereupon I began to be disturbed. I did not want to be “typical,” fawning (albeit internally) over a gold-dang movie star. I had long since come to Jesus and the Second coming of the Sluthood, seen the light, and cast off such shallow notions.
“For god’s sake. It was John Travolta,” my friend Opal said, the bent of her own personality taking her immediately to the response I had attempted to resist. “How long did he talk to you and Grayson’s mom?”
“I don’t know. Maybe four or five minutes?”
“Five whole minutes?” (She sounded like a high school sophomore: “I saw Johnny outside the gym and he smiled at me!”) “What was he like?”
“He seemed very nice.” And that was true, though I hated to encourage her. I did not elaborate on the fact that he seemed very genuine.
“What did he say? What did he say?”
I could take no more. “He said to dress up like Olivia Newton-John in Grease, and he’ll take you to a beach movie at the drive-in and neck with you and be your ready steady.”
I did not remain disgusted with myself for long, though, because the next tenet of Successful Sluthood (and please do not criticize the fact that it sounds trite and pop-psychology-ish because it is something that is out there in the world of talk shows and call-in radio, but just because it is “pop” does not mean it is, by definition, pabulum) is the “seal the deal” tenet. If you ever need to go to the three most important tenets of Successful Sluthood, think Heart #8, Soul #5 and Seal the Deal #26. Hmm. Sounds like a line of perfumes. Perhaps I shall get some offers. Anyway, back to
Tenet Number Twenty-six: Thou shalt forgive thyself thy transgressions.
Forgiveness is a big fat hairy deal. Truly it is. It is even bigger for a woman whose husband was living at least a quadruple life, complete with other women (at least three of them at last count), but verily I say unto you, until you can do that whole forgiveness thing, to the best of your ability, you cannot fully bask in the soul-saving silvered sunshine of a Second Sluthood. And while I admit to having a sliver or two of anger that I am loathe to purge pricking deep in my heart, I would argue that I am doing pretty damn awesomely, given the circumstances.
As for Mr. Scarpete, our consummation was not to be just yet. Out of sight, out of mind. So, having apparently accomplished his mission in fair Fairhope, he simply vanished, leaving me feeling a bit like Dorothy, who, about Oz, observed, “My! People come and go so quickly here!”
Such are my musings beneath the Spanish moss, those laces that drizzle and whisper with the breezes on Waterhole Branch. There’s no place like home.