Monday, November 24, 2014

Patriotism and Partial Nudity

             As a young man I excelled at managing the resources of others.  My downfall seemed to be my inability to manage my own.  As an adult I have definitely sharpened my skills; however, some lessons were hard to come by.  I would love to tell you that I was one of the noble poor, those who possess the gift of delayed gratification; those who, when given resources, use them wisely.  Full disclosure, I was of the less than noble poor; those who want so desperately to have things that when given access to anything, use them as if they were commonplace.  I considered my lack of royal birth as ample delay in any sort of gratification.  I say this to give the backstory for a time when I was publicly humiliated by a fashion choice made without good use of limited funds.  I am referring to the incident at Opryland, bastion of family values, overpriced soda and country music. 
                I was a trumpeter in the band from fifth grade until my sophomore year in college.  A band nerd to be sure; however, trumpet players are the studs of the band, if you will.  It is the only time I thought I was a stud; let me have this one, people.  Our high school band (Tylertown, MS) was an exceptionally talented group of people and we had been invited to compete in the Strawberry Festival and Parade in Humboldt, Tennessee.  In order pay for this trip we had to panhandle.  And by that I mean sell magazine subscriptions and candy bars to the townspeople or county folks as Tylertown was the only town in the county.  Each member had to sell a specific amount to pay for their trip and any money earned above that was returned to them for spending money on said trip.  I was a ‘champeen’ seller and paid for my trip plus received a refund in the triple digits so I was stoked, do you hear me?
                My parents had put back some money assuming, I imagine, that I would eat more Snickers than I sold.  When I told her of my bounty, my mother informed me that I could use those funds to buy a new outfit or two depending on the cost.  I was even more stoked; new clothes and a new place to wear them.  Look out Humboldt!
                If I were giving my 1987-self some advice, I would have said to buy khaki shorts and 2-3 polo style shirts to have more options and, seemingly, more clothes; good solid wardrobe staples.  Unfortunately the 16 year-old Dusty was all about a trend and poor choices were made, both in the immediacy and in retrospect.  My poor mother tried her best to nudge me in the right path, but what I chose I was amazing, y’all.  One outfit was purple, orange and black jam shorts with an orange scrub-style top.  Yes, like nurses wear.  It was a ‘thing’ back then in Southwest Mississippi.  The other outfit was a shorts and top set (don’t judge me) that was white with little light blue, pink and red nautical flags scattered both port and starboard. 
                So, fast forward to the really long bus trip where I don’t remember who I sat beside, I do recall that Angela Hall reclined her seat into my space.  Of course I said nothing as I am too polite and she could have easily bested me at fisticuffs, were they to ensue.  We arrived, competed in the marching festival, lost the grand prize by one-half a point and headed to Opryland to get as crazy as you can get at a family-oriented theme park with eleventy-seven chaperones and a band director who was suspicious of you because of your “smart mouth”.  Of course, in those days ‘crazy’ to me meant eating two corn dogs and not feeling guilty.  I was not a wild child, people.  All the insanity came in one 18-month period when I was 25ish.
                Feeling all nautical, I had decided to christen Opryland in my white outfit.  I was standing near one of the rides chatting with my peeps, as I do not ride rides lest I barf in public, when a strange girl (and I mean strange in the sense that I didn’t know her, not due to any outward abnormalities) walked up behind me and said, “Nice underwear.”  Before I could stop myself I said, “Thanks” because I will take any compliment offered.  When I looked down to see why she would have mentioned my unmentionables, I noticed for the first time that day that you could, in fact, see the light blue tightie-whities (tightie-bluies?) I was wearing.  How no one in my group had noticed or pointed out the fact that you could see right through my ensemble I do not know.  I realize that my body does not inspire anyone to compose poetry or take chisel to stone but c’mon, these were supposed to be my friends; my fellow band nerds.  In response, I did the only honorable thing which was hastily untuck my shirt, flee the scene to seek solace in yet another corn dog and pray for sweet death to take me.
                Although I sweated enough for 17 people in the summer heat, I did not perish beneath the awning of the corn dog stand.  One of my roommates did, however, lend me his Walkman and cassette single of Shirley Murdock’s “As We Lay” to ease my humiliation.  These items had been purchased the day before at Sam Goody because Clark Sauls was rich, y’all; richer than me, at least.  Side note, Mr. Sauls was also the best-dressed boy at my school.  He had actually bought not just a cassette single but two additional entire cassettes!  I had to tape songs from the radio to have anything to listen to in my mother’s car and that was only while using the 8-track/cassette adapter we bought at the truck stop on double-clearance sale because nobody had a car old enough to still have an 8-track tape player except somebody's Pee-paw and apparently he already had one.
             The next day, we visited the Opryland Hotel and I was determined to not only mitigate the exposure from the previous day, but to ensure mass amnesia.  I didn’t know how, but “Entertainment Dusty” was going to need to make an appearance.  Entertainment Dusty was my alter-ego who did a one-man show whenever he needed to feel loved, was caught in an embarrassing situation, felt uncomfortable, felt at a disadvantage socially or simply wanted to hear someone laugh.  Generating laughter is my super power and something that makes me smile on the inside.
             We were trying to figure out how to enjoy hanging out in a hotel where we weren’t actually staying and I decided to give a tour as I suddenly remembered tour guides walk backwards.  This would solve the problem of possible exposure if, for some strange reason, my orange, purple and black jam shorts somehow became see-through.  Having never been to the Opryland Hotel, but very skilled at simply making things up on the fly, I started to point out the many details of the hotel’s décor. 
                “And we’re walking, we’re walking, please note the lovely mural to your right.  It was not painted here, unlike most murals.  It was actually imported from Uruguay and Canada at the same time, by the same artist.  Yes, that’s unusual and no, I don’t know why.  What can I say, artists are finicky.  And we’re walking, we’re walking, also note the decorative sconces that are supposed to invoke a sense of patriotism through their intricate curlicues.  They were imported all the way from Dunwoody, Georgia.  Imported means ‘not from here’.  Georgia is not Tennessee.  And we’re walking.” 
                After a half-hour or so, we came to a ballroom and I got distracted watching the staff decorate for a function.  Suddenly an elderly voice said, “Is the tour over?”  It was only then that I noticed there were 8-10 older people walking along at the back of our group who had mistaken me for an actual tour guide.  So I did what any self-respecting fake tour guide would do; I finished the tour and dropped them off in the lobby just in time to catch their bus.  I can’t disappoint my public, can I?
                And that is all I’m saying for now.

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