Hi again! I am traveling around the US and writing about it, and there seems to be no end in sight.
US Tour Day 27: Buttons, Mr. Lifto
So, so tired. So very tired. I feel like a plastic bag laying out in the street in a puddle, torn and dirty. When I feel this bad there's no way I could look good.
I sat in an internet cafe all day yesterday in Austin. Bouldin Creek it was called. I traded buttons for iced tea and cookies there. No money changed hands.
After about eight hours of writing and making buttons and sipping iced tea, June picked me up for dinner. We went to Curra's, a Tex–Mex place not far away. I was happy to eat there because it was one of the few places in Austin I had visited before. I've been away from home for 27 days, and even superficial familiarity is an oasis in this desert—I'll take whatever I can get.
The waitstaff looked so straight. I didn't really expect them to descend upon our table like vultures when I brought out my hyper–offensive buttons. But, they went nuts—ate them up. They really didn't look like the nonconsensual oral violation sort of people, but they just went ape for the rape my mouth buttons. Their enthusiasm made me feel a little awkward actually. It's like, I was trying to have a conversation with my friend June over dinner but there were five sets of waiter and waitress hands digging through a bag of buttons atop our cramped, two–person table.
I was pleased, though. They all laughed and smiled and ping–ponged snarky remarks between one another as they pawed through the pins. I love it when people smile and laugh. And, who doesn't like to have a bunch of folks gathered around, excited about your creation—even if it is something as asinine as buttons.
The waiters and waitresses dug into their pockets and pulled out streams of one dollar bills for me. I give away the buttons when I have money. Now that I'm broke I accept donations. And they were donating in a serious way. When it was all said and done, the button money paid for my dinner.
Then June whisked me off to a country bar called the Continental. Man, pedal steel. I can't get enough of it. The sound of the pedal steel soothes my ears and mind and all that technical stuff in between in a way that no other instrument can. I don't even like country music all that much. But, I like the components of it.
OK. So, at this point I thought my night was pretty damned fun. I was hanging out with this cool girl, I ate great food, and my buttons bought me dinner. I didn't know I was going to have another religious experience.
June walks me into this bar that I had been to before, it was the first place I went with Andie on the night we met. It was a two–story place and it didn't have live music, which was fine by me because I am tired of listening to bands who I'm not interested in playing really, really loud as if I might like them if they only played a little louder. I don't want to like bands. I want to talk with my friend. This place had no band, and I was pleased.
As we saddled up to the bar she asked me if I knew who Mr. Lifto was. Jesus fuck. My eyeballs tried as hard as they could to eject themselves through my wide–open eyelids, as Mr. Lifto was the bartender. He seemed to emanate this calm, and he was quite unassuming. He had the sort of humble smile that you'd only notice if you were looking for it.
When I was a teenager—1992, I think—I saw the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow and Mr. Lifto was there. His gig was to lift heavy things with his piercings. He hung irons from his nipples and a cinder block from his penis. The crowd gasped as the cinder block lifted from the ground. I remember thinking as I saw him, this is the coolest thing ever.
I felt disconnected from the other spectators, though. I wasn't amazed or entertained. I was inspired; my mind raced. I told myself right then, That's not magic, I can do that stuff, too! I knew at that moment that I wanted to do that sort of thing when I grew up—I wanted to stab giant holes through my body and lift up crazy stuff with my piercings. Or, rather, I wanted to do something that meant the same thing, that flowed in the same river, fibers in the same fabric.
I already knew I was different from most people, but, when I saw Mr. Lifto something sparked in me. I realized that I felt more aligned with him and the people on that circus sideshow stage than with anyone in the audience around me. It clicked. I was a freak. And, it wasn't a bad thing. It was just simply who I was, at my core. I had never seen any adult freaks before. Seeing him that day made me realize that there was a place for me in this world.
My head spun. There he was, right in front of me, behind the bar in Austin, Texas. I didn't know what to say. I started to explain how I had wanted to be him when I grew up, but the words didn't come out so well. Luckily I didn't have time to think about it, as he spotted my buttons instantly and asked, "What's with the buttons?" I handed him the bag and told him to take as many as he wanted.
He proceeded to look through them and cackle with laughter. He cackled. I went to the toilet and came back. He was still laughing. I knew that laughter. It was the laughter you get when everything around you is so unexpectedly hilarious and incredible that you want to look around and make sure it's all really happening. I know that feeling, because that's the feeling I get when I look at my buttons, too—it's an orgy of offensiveness and off–color humor.
And, it meant so much to me that this man who had inspired me at age sixteen laughed and laughed at the bag full of my one inch diameter sight gags. It affirmed everything I thought about him and me and being cut from the same cloth, a weave that just never quite fit into normal society.
He took the ones he wanted, offering to trade them for our drinks. Dizzy, spinning, I thought, this world is just too good, just too good. I was trading my buttons to Mr. Lifto for drinks in Austin motherfucking Texas.
I had a pear cider; June had a beer. As she dragged me, stunned and giddy, up the stairs, he reminded us to come back later because he wanted to give us some shots as a thank you for the buttons.
And we did. We had Maker's Mark, which I think is whiskey or something bad–tasting like that. I don't know. The tastes in my mouth weren't really on my mind. It was everything else—the synchronicities of my life, cycles returning to the beginning, and the swelling feeling of honor for being right there at that moment—that had me all spinning and spinning and spinning.
The three of us clinked our tiny glasses together and drank our poisons. Together. He thanked me again for the buttons. Jesus. He thanked me. I didn't know what to say, so I just smiled a smile from the heart, and we went our separate ways—each of us threads, weaving out into the cloth of the night, weaving out into the cloth of this life.
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