Somewhere Sunday Sampler: “Road Rat” and “Cross Country”

Hello Everyone!

I know it’s been a while and I hope you’re all awesome.  As some of you know, I self-published my first book last year. The next two books in the trilogy will be coming out very soon. In the meantime, I’m kicking off the “Somewhere Sunday Sampler” series for the summer. I’ll be posting a chapter, sometimes two, from the first book of my trilogy, Somewhere Between This & That: An Absurd Journey, every Sunday. We’re kicking off the series with the first two chapters. Hold on to your seat, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

From the trilogy

Somewhere Between This & That: An Absurd Journey

Book One:

THE MAKING OF A NATURAL DISASTER

This is a work of fiction. Although it is written in the form of an autobiography, it is not one. Clearly, no reasonable person would ever consider this absurd story to be true. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. With the exception of public figures and those with reputations of public renown, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Full of salty language – This is intended for mature audiences.

Road Rat

“DON’T BE SCARED, baby, all I want you to do is kiss my stump.”

Lyric wasn’t sure she’d heard the gun-wielding man quite correctly. Then, he threw back the covers to reveal his naked body and an off-color prosthetic leg. She’d already recognized him as the very large black man who’d been limping around many of the band’s recent shows. While still trying to wrestle the tiny hotel towel around her freshly showered and voluptuous frame, she quickly surmised only one possible way out of this.

“I’ll kiss your stump, baby. I’ll kiss it real good. You just go ahead and take that leg off.”

He shakily tried to remove the prosthesis, but his excited state would require the use of both hands, so he set the gun down. Once he’d fully released the leg, Lyric dropped her towel, grabbed it, and bolted out of the hotel room. Lyric’s bandmates were just getting off the elevator as she came running bare-assed down the hallway.

“HELP! THIS CRAZY MOTHER FUCKER WANTS ME TO KISS HIS STUMP!” Lyric screamed, still clutching the prosthesis.

They laughed but swiftly realized this wasn’t just another one of Lyric’s crazy pranks when they saw the naked man hopping after her, waving his revolver.

“GET BACK HERE WITH MY LEG, BITCH.”

Lyric and the band made their escape in the elevator after she tossed the leg down the hall at her stalker. Mr. “kiss my stump” wasn’t seen at any more gigs.

My mother, Lyric, was a busty and bawdy bombshell, with a bluesy rock powerhouse voice. The tale of “Kiss My Stump” was easily everyone’s favorite of her many outrageous road stories and I’d heard it more times than I could count. She began singing in clubs while still in high school and had aspirations far beyond the little seaside tourist town of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Separated from my father when I was still a toddler, my mother met Keys late one night at the Army-Navy Club. He was immediately taken by the sight of this beautiful and mysterious creature playing pool in a long black hooded cape. Keys was a handsome piano playing singer-songwriter with a blue-eyed soul sound. It didn’t take long for them to join forces and hit the road playing mostly rock, soul, and funk covers. In the early 70’s, you could make a pretty good living playing live music. They’d often pull out of one town not knowing where the next gig would be, but live music venues were ubiquitous in the days before disco.

Those early years are when I first recall having the deep longing to be someplace else. I’d often wake up, but keep my eyes closed tight while wishing I was back in Myrtle Beach with my grandparents. The abrasive bedspread and musty smell of the hotel room were unmistakable clues my wish hadn’t been granted. I’d give up and open my eyes to another day on the road with my mom’s band. Most of my earliest memories are of being on the open road, hoping the next place would be better than the last.

We spent many long hours in our brightly colored van traveling the eastern states. I vividly remember rolling down the highway on a sunny day with “Band on the Run” playing on the radio, anxiously looking for the next Howard Johnson’s. It was my favorite place to stop because I knew I could get a hot fudge sundae as big as my face. A rather precocious child, I kept Mom and Keys constantly teetering between the states of amusement and mortification. I once thoughtfully examined our waitress as she spoke and asked, “Mom, why does our waitress have only one, two, three, four teeth in her whole head?”

I certainly wasn’t the only source of entertainment on the road. The ever-changing members of the band were always far from dull and these colorful characters also served as my playmates. There was Lenny, who ignited a woman’s hair while spitting fire during a show one night. He ratted me out once by calling my mom’s room to inform her I was taking a crap in the bushes just outside the hotel lobby’s picture window. I was around 4-years-old, but I can still see the look on Keys’ face. Apparently, I gave Lenny chicken pox about two years later that nearly killed him and rendered him sterile. Payback’s a bitch.

Stew was an extraordinarily tall guitar player who towered over the rest of the band. He reminded me of Jethro Bodine from THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, but with long wavy hair. He’d be so delighted any time we found a hotel with a pool, he’d promptly dive in and break his nose on the bottom. There was quite the commotion in the audience the first time he took the stage because his skin-tight bell-bottomed jumpsuit accentuated his equine-like manhood. The irate club owner demanded he wear a cup for the next show. Lyric thought the sheer inadequacy of this demand was hilarious and suggested a bowl might be more effective. There were always chicks lined up to meet Stew after every show, but he terrified waitresses all along the East Coast while eating with his hands and grunting through his meals.

Having just one couple on stage can be a challenge, but two is usually disastrous. This became evident when one incarnation of the band featured a husband and wife percussion team. The wife of this team was so consumed with jealousy that she became convinced something was going on between her husband and Lyric. Their tenure with the band ended in an all-out stage brawl during a New Year’s Eve gig. She threw drumsticks at Lyric’s head and hurled her rhythm tree into her husband’s drum kit. The melee finally ended when she was dragged off stage in a straightjacket by the local police.

Disco was quickly becoming a worldwide phenomenon by the mid 70’s. Club owners everywhere were jumping on the bandwagon, or off of it, and opting to hire DJs to spin disco tracks rather than pay live bands for their patrons’ entertainment. This, coupled with the fact I’d have to start school soon, made touring full-time less practical. Mom and Keys were married by then and decided to settle in Atlanta where there was still a thriving live music scene. They got a steady gig as the house band at the No Worries Nightclub on Peachtree until its owners also decided to ride the disco wave. Keys got on as their house DJ while Mom went on and fronted another band.

Mom would occasionally tour with this new outfit of amazing musicians. Their lineup included a drummer who’d already been with a Grammy-winning funk and soul group in the 60’s. Sharp dressed and talented, this soul brother had a short drum solo that would go on to become one of the most sampled beats in recording history.

I stayed with Keys while Mom toured with the Atlanta-based outfit, but an on-tour affair nearly brought an end to their marriage. Keys eventually forgave her, but she came off the road for good. Her stage costumes became dress-up fodder for me and my friends while she attended night school to learn audio engineering. We’d break out the snakeskin cape, sequined vests, hip hats, scarves, and feather boas, pretending to be Earth, Wind & Fire, Labelle, or Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I also developed a pretty solid Elvis impersonation.

I went directly into the first grade in Atlanta and having spent most of my life around musicians, the social aspects of elementary school perplexed me. Already knowing how to read and write, I pretty much assumed I was just a small adult. I’d never been around so many little people and didn’t understand why they all smelled like pee. The school recommended I skip the second grade, but Mom decided against it.

A lot of firsts happened in Atlanta. The first grade, the first time I rode a bike without training wheels, and the first time I can recall seeing my mother absolutely freak the fuck out. She’d gone into the closet that held her old stage costumes and was greeted by the distinct odor of cat piss. She emerged red-faced, wide-eyed, and shaking. Her lips seemed to disappear and I thought her face might split apart to reveal some sort of beast emerging from beneath her skull. Her high-pitched shrieking eventually gave way to something deep and guttural.

“Where-is-that-fuc-king-cat?” she inquired in deliberate syllables as she searched.

She found the cat and headed out the sliding glass door of the bedroom, disappearing into the small patch of woods that separated our apartment from the road. She returned a brief time later with what I can only describe as a look of deranged satisfaction.

“I threw that little mother fucker at a passing car,” she declared.

I didn’t actually see her throw this cat, and while some part of me has always wanted to believe she was only saying this for some twisted dramatic effect, I never saw that cat again. I also never asked for another one.

After I finished the first grade, Mom was hoping to turn her newly learned production skills into a lucrative career. Keys continued writing songs on his piano in the living room, hoping to find success as a singer-songwriter. Meanwhile, he’d been offered a position with a company opening a new chain of discos in Southern California. The opportunity was too good to pass up, so they sent me to my grandparents in Myrtle Beach while they packed up and headed out West.

Cross Country

THERE ISN’T MUCH not to love about Myrtle Beach when you’re six. There’s the beach, amusement parks, water slides, go-cart tracks, and miniature golf courses. The best part for me was always my family, especially my grandparents. I stayed with them many times in my first six years. Being the first grandchild, quite a fuss was made over me by everyone, especially my aunts, Belle and Piper.

A former moonshine runner and stock car racer, my grandfather, Merle, was a successful plumbing contractor. In the 60’s, he’d moved his family from Conway, about fifteen miles inland, to within a block of the Atlantic Ocean. Merle was robust, jovial, knew everybody, had money and liked to spend it. He was generous to a fault and kept a little something for you under the seat if you’d had a bad day. If you owned a hotel back then, his company probably installed the plumbing, and if you were in public office, he’d probably helped you get there. Merle wasn’t the tallest man in Horry County, but I never met anyone who wanted to tangle with him.

He once rescued me from a hippie commune my parents were staying at when I was a baby. When he saw his only grandchild in deplorable conditions and covered in bug bites, he carried me right the hell out of there, daring anyone to try and stop him. A notorious womanizer and poker player, he might lose a Cadillac in one hand and win a hotel in the next. I absolutely adored him and would brag to anyone who would listen that I was “Merle Jepson’s granddaughter”. It made me feel like I was a VERY big deal. He’d sometimes take me to work with him, but most days were spent with my grandmother.

My grandmother, Viola, was slender with long black hair and piercing blue eyes. Quite beautiful. She had a welcoming spirit and always referred to me as her “5th child”. In the early 70’s, my grandparents moved from their home on the north end to a small hotel Granddaddy acquired in a poker game. It was maybe a mile from the Pavilion Amusement Park, which sat across from the ocean in the center of town. The main home and office were in the center of the horseshoe-shaped hotel, with a pool in the middle. Grandma taught me how to swim in that pool.

Days around the hotel, I had a pretty solid routine. I’d swim in the pool and have a homemade pimento cheese sandwich for lunch. Then, I’d be put down for a nap while Grandma and Mitzy tended to the hotel. Without fail, I’d sneak out of bed and find a way to get to the Little Debbie snack cakes on top of the refrigerator. Grandma or Mitzy would tan my fanny and only then could I finally take my nap. This cat and mouse routine went on pretty much daily.

My uncle, Trey, was a teenager then and I was fairly certain the sun rose and set on his behind. I’m sure he thought I was a pain in the ass, but I loved tossing the Frisbee around with him and the family dog. I’d end each night either saying prayers and being tucked in by Granddaddy or being rocked to sleep by Grandma. Without even closing my eyes, I can still hear the sound the rocking recliner made and recall the smell of my grandmother. Those were magical times, indeed.

After a couple of months, my mom and Daddy-Keys, as I called him by then, sent for me. I said goodbye to my grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends then boarded a plane for the first of many cross-country trips as an unaccompanied minor.

I loved flying as a child. The airlines were always good to me when I traveled alone. They escorted me everywhere and gave me things to color. They made sure I had a window seat and I always got to meet the pilot. I looked forward to the force of the plane speeding down the runway, pushing my little body back in the seat, then seeming to leave my stomach on the ground as we took off. I noticed no matter what the weather was like on the ground, the plane would climb above the clouds and be greeted by the bright light of the sun. At night, I’d marvel at how cities appeared as expansive grids below, with miniature lighted creatures moving in organized patterns.

After I arrived in sunny Southern California, we lived in Norwalk for what seemed like 5 minutes, then moved to a little 2-bedroom apartment in Brea. My first memory of that late summer move to Brea is walking into the apartment to find people crying.

“What’s wrong with everybody?”

“Elvis is dead”, two or three voices sobbed in unison.

I’d listened to Elvis almost daily and Mom would often ask me to do my impersonation of him for company. I couldn’t recall what my “real” father looked like and I had a secret fantasy that he was Elvis. I would imagine him showing up to whisk his long lost little girl away to Graceland. This all made sense in my little mind because I was a black-headed, blue-eyed child that didn’t much resemble my blonde, brown-eyed mother.

At six-years-old, I didn’t understand what “dead” really meant, but I knew it to mean gone in some way. I felt a rush of panic as I darted toward our record collection. A huge wave of relief washed over me when I put my little hands on his album.

“Here he is!” I exclaimed. “See, he’s right here!”

I put the record on the turntable and dropped the needle.

“Listen! It’s ok, he isn’t gone. Don’t you hear him?”

It was clear to me that Elvis wasn’t gone. I could hear him, plain as day, and see his face on the album cover. I couldn’t understand why the grown-ups were acting so weird, so I went back outside to play.

By the time school started, I traded in my Rod Stewart haircut for the iconic Dorothy Hamill hairdo. I absolutely loved the second grade. Daddy-Keys was very involved with my class and would sometimes come to sing and play piano. He also arranged for my class to take field trips to the club he worked at for a little daytime disco fun. Very cool.

Mom quickly found her way into the music scene and started her own production company. There were a lot of late nights. I spent many evenings playing and sleeping on the couches of various recording studios like Village Recorder, Sound City, Wally Heider, and Mystic. My favorite pass-time was always terrorizing the musicians.

“You better tune that guitar before you go in there with my mother”, I admonished one young man waiting to go in and lay down some tracks.

“Jesus, that’s the kid. The mom must be a real fucking ball-buster,” I heard him say as I strutted away.

As you can imagine, my parents slept in until around 2 in the afternoon on many days. I was, as circumstances required, a fiercely independent child. I got myself up and off to school, often wondering why they couldn’t find a more convenient place to keep the cereal than on top of the refrigerator. After school, I knew if they were awake before I even opened the front door. The aroma of coffee, reefer, and bacon let me know I didn’t have to tiptoe upon entering. On weekends, I spent much of my time roller skating, jumping on my pogo stick, and feeding my candy habit. As with most kids, I had a pretty fierce sugar addiction and, like most addicts, my friend Jan and I resorted to stealing to support it.

We were hardly young criminal masterminds. I’d already received the belt after being caught taking Daddy-Keys’ silver coins out of the pockets of his old blazer that hung in the closet. I was never caught in the act, but Keys noticed his blazer was considerably lighter. While interrogating me, he promised I wouldn’t get the belt if I just told the truth. This, of course, was a lie. We also got busted for making a large dent in someone’s collection of deposit bottles. Well, she got busted, I wasn’t about to confess after the last whipping I took.

The belt squashed our thieving ways and we decided to get creative. We began braiding bracelets from the multicolored wire the telephone man would give us and sold them for 50 cents apiece. We’d finally found a way to keep ourselves in a steady supply of sweet, sugary goodness and life was good.

By the fourth grade, I was allowed to ride my bike all the way to school, zooming past the long lines of cars during the odd and even days of the 1979 energy crisis. School was going great. I got excellent grades, breezed through standardized tests, and loved my teacher. I had lots of friends, participated in plays, and was even a Girl Scout. Then, we moved.

The absurd journey continues in chapter 3 “Movin’ On Up”

If you don’t want to wait, you can purchase the paperback or eBook  HERE

 Copyright © 2017 – 2018 Harmonie A. Hillwest

All Rights Reserved

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