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Monthly Archives: October 2017
Heavy Heavy Hangover
“What do you want for your birthday?” a friend asked.
“Oh, I don’t deserve a present. Just give me a lump of coal in a brown paper sack. That will make it easier for you to hit me in the head with it.”
My friend gave me a blank stare which he accented with thoughtful blinking. Finally he asked, “What the hell are you talking about?”
“You know. That game you play when you’re a kid? ‘Heavy heavy hangover… thy poor head…’?”
More blank staring and thoughtful blinking.
So I explained the game. The birthday boy or girl would have to sit in a chair and everyone who brought a gift to the party would, one by one, go stand behind the child and say the whole rhyme. Which went, “Heavy heavy hangover, thy poor head. What would you wish with a BUMP on your head?” And when you say “bump,” you would wallop the birthday kid over the head with your gift. And you could smash them as hard as you want and they couldn’t get mad. And then, as you would hand them the gift to unwrap, they would wish for something specifically for you. Usually it was for something completely outlandish and impossible. Like a pony, or a trip to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
“That’s… completely… odd,” said my friend as diplomatically as possible.
“You really didn’t play that game growing up?” I asked. “Seriously? I always assumed that everyone played that at birthday parties.”
I asked about twenty people over the next couple of days if they had ever heard of this game, and no one had. I called my parents to ask them where it came from, but it turns out that neither of them ever played it as kids. In fact, they hadn’t heard of it until my sisters and I learned it from the neighbors.
I brought it up again at my birthday party. “Have any of you ever heard of ‘Heavy Heavy Hangover?’”
This time, my friend Gina (who was also raised in Utah) immediately started chanting the rhyme in a funny put-on kid voice.
“Yes!” I said. “Finally! I thought I was going insane!”
“Mormons are so weird,” someone else said, after we explained the game to the room.
“That’s just it!” I said. “It can’t be a Mormon thing; it has the word ‘hangover’ in it! Right?”
“Maybe that’s what Mormons think hangovers are,” Gina offered.
“Maybe…” I wondered.
I Googled it but didn’t solve the mystery. I found some references and it definitely seems to be Utah and even Mormon centric. But I didn’t find an origin story.
Then, sometime later, I was re-reading The Great Brain, a children’s book by Utah writer, John D. Fitzgerald and he referenced the game (and he didn’t explain it, so apparently he thought it was ‘a thing’ too), proving they were playing it in Utah as early as the 1910s. Wherever it came from, it’s probably a good thing it never caught on in any global sense. Sure, it was fun for us to brain each other when we were kids. But kids can handle that sort of thing because – as everyone knows – children are made of galvanized rubber and polyurethane. If everyone carried a connection with birthday gifts and head injuries into adulthood, as I have done, this world would be a much scarier place. Especially when you consider that more than one of my lovely friends bought me wine for my birthday. One well placed thwack with that and I’d be permanently lobotomized. I’d wander around for the rest of my life drooling on people while wishing them ponies.
And Mormons think that alcohol is bad for you if you drink it. Can you imagine?
In the summer of 1999, Jules and Demetria and I were on a long road trip through the Louisiana and Texas. I had never been to the South before and I found it quite mysterious. I had never experienced humidity before, for one thing. And the bugs down there are mind-blowing. I remember being astonished by the number and size of the bugs I saw, but mostly I was amazed by the sound. We have crickets in Utah and they sing quietly on warm nights. The crickets they have in the South are something else, entirely. I honestly don’t know how anyone in Texas gets a good night’s sleep in the summer.
We arrived at Juliane’s Dad’s place in Beaumont, Texas, and decided to go out and soak our feet and legs in the pool. My legs were covered in large and swollen mosquito bites and I was really suffering, so it sounded like a great idea. That is, until Juliane handed me a net on a long pole and told me it was to scoop the frogs out of the pool.
“I’m from the desert.” I told her, looking down at the net in my hands. “We don’t scoop frogs in the desert. I’m going to need more instructions.”
A few flung frogs later, we were sitting on the edge of the swimming pool cooling our feet and sipping beer. After a little while, Jules hopped up to let the dogs out. That was another thing about that trip. Everyone we stayed with had dogs. Big dogs. I grew up in a house with cats and staying with dogs was completely new to me. The Beaumont dogs were especially frenetic. They whipped me with their tails and they licked me in the face. I thought they were going to push me into the pool a couple of times.
After a while, I had to ask Jules to pull them off of me. She tugged them toward her by their collars and let them lick her face.
“Good dog,” she said. “That’s my good boy.”
They settled down and we got back to our conversation. It was some point after that when I felt a hard little raised speck on my arm. It was dark and I couldn’t really see it, but I knew what it was.
“Oh shit! I have a tick!”
“Are you sure?” Jules asked.
“Look, it’s here on my arm. Can you see it?”
“Oh yeah… what is that?”
“Fuck fuck fuck. I’m going to get Lyme disease. This is what I get for running around barefoot in Texas!”
“What does that have to do with anything? It’s on your arm. Let’s go inside and get a better look…”
Juliane’s father and step mother are both doctors, but they had gone out for the evening. I was sitting on a stool in their kitchen and we were trying to figure out what to do. Then I remembered something that my dad told me.
“My dad said that when he was working at Outward Bound, they used to find ticks. And he they would light a match, blow it out, and burn the tick with the tip, but they found that it worked better to pour cheap wine on them.”
“Really?” Demetria sounded skeptical.
“Yeah. Because if you burn them, you might kill them. And then, because they have burrowed in, you still have to dig their heads out. But if you can get them to back out, that’s the best way. And Dad said that he would put cheap booze on them and then they would ‘back out happy.’”
“We can try it,” Jules said. “Of course, my dad doesn’t buy cheap wine. So we might want to keep this hush hush…”
Jules found a shot glass and set it on the counter. Then she left the kitchen to go to the wine cellar and returned with a bottle of white wine in a plain and expensive looking European label. We opened the bottle and poured a shot of wine. Then Deme flipped it over quickly and held it against my arm. We all watched intently to see what would happen next.
The tick didn’t move.
“Shit. Do you think it’s dead already?”
“I don’t know. Give it a minute.”
We sat in silence for another minute or two. And then something strange did happen. The little thing seemed to change shape a slightly and drift away from my skin.
“What the hell?”
Demetria lowered the shot glass and I inspected the tick, which was no longer as hard as an exoskeleton should be. I was now able to pull it from the arm hair it was sticking to.
“Um, guys? I’m sorry. That was a false alarm. It isn’t a tick.”
“What is it, then?”
“I think it’s a dog booger.”
“Shut up. You just made me pour sixty dollars of wine on a dog booger?!”
“I said I was sorry!”
Of course, at that point, there was nothing to do but drink the rest of the wine. I don’t actually remember drinking it, but we must have. I do remember swearing them to secrecy because I was so embarrassed and just a little bit terrified of Juliane’s dad. He was even more intense than the dogs – though in a different way, obviously. But if he noticed that the bottle was missing, he didn’t say anything.
I didn’t get comfortable around dogs until after I got Wensley, and that was many years after that trip. It’s funny to me to remember this, because now I’m the girl who always stops to pet the dogs. Matt was teasing me a little while ago about my dog love. “Uh oh, all conversation must stop – Rachel saw a dog!” It’s true, I’m a complete dog dork, and I’ve interrupted many perfectly good stories with my outbursts. But in my defense, there was a dog.
I spent the summer of 2001 working (unpaid) for a small artists’ venture called St. Jayne’s Theatre Company. The company was founded by a girl I knew from college, who I would have described as a “frenemy” if we had that word back then. She was passionate and driven and was dying to produce good theatre. But she could also be vain, obstinate, and a bit of a drama queen. I was concerned when she asked me to be on her board of directors because I didn’t trust her leadership and I was worried the project would end badly. I also wanted to be making theatre and there were a number of other people on the board I respected, so I said yes. I thought there was a good chance we would pull it off.
I was wrong, though. It didn’t end badly. It started badly. It got worse as it went along. And then it ended in tears, accusatory phone calls, and terminated friendships. What I hadn’t counted on – what I didn’t realize at the time – was that I could also be vain, obstinate, and a bit of a drama queen. And the two of us together, my frenemy and I, twisted our vain obstinate energy into a vortex of destruction and bitchery. But somewhere in the middle of all of that, we put on a play.
I’m glad that I did it, though. I learned a lot. We overcame some serious obstacles to persevere and I am still proud of the production. The play was SubUrbia, and there are two things that I remember most about it. Both require a little bit of explanation. The first one is the sound wall.
We were doing the play outdoors at a music venue called Kilby Court, which is in the center of a block in an industrial area of Salt Lake. It made sense because the play takes place in the parking lot of a Kwiky Mart-type convenience store, but if a band was playing on the stage across the alley, it was too loud to hear the actors. So the board decided that we would need to get a contract from the owner of Kilby Court that stated that we had exclusive performing rights on the nights of the show and we tasked the founder of the company, my afore described frenemy, to get the contract signed.
I asked about the contract during rehearsals and my frenemy responded by saying vaguely, “yeah yeah, it’s fine… it’s taken care of.” In fact, she had approached the owner with the contract and he refused to sign it because he couldn’t afford to lose the profit from the bands and take the risk that we would be able to deliver a similar amount. It was smart, and I understood where he was coming from. We never drew in the same sized crowds as the bands. But she was afraid to tell us what happened, so she just… didn’t. We didn’t find out until the weekend before the show opened that the owner of Kilby Court had booked bands in his other space for every single night we were performing.
That night we were sitting on the deck trying to figure out how we could possibly make it work. We talked for hours and a plan began to form. Twenty four inventive hours later, we stood in the alley of Kilby Court looking up at our brand new, functional sound wall. That day, we rented two stories of scaffolding from a construction site, assembled it ourselves, and filled it with a ton of hay that we bought off a local farmer. Then we covered it with tarps. It wasn’t beautiful, but it worked. The show could go on!.
The second thing I remember most about SubUrbia is the giant purple dildo.
The main female character in SubUrbia is a twenty-something girl named Suze who is planning to move to New York to become an artist. In her first scene on stage, Suze presents the performance art piece that she has been developing.
The monologue is a fuming estrogen-angst filled rant that is desperate to be shocking, but comes off as a poor knock-off of Ani DiFranco lyrics from the early 90s. We wanted it to be a parody of clichéd performance art. We had a trunk full of props. We put her in a body suit that she could paint on as she wore it. And best of all, we got The Blue Boutique to donate a large double-sided dildo in exchange for advertising in our program. Every night, Suze ended her monologue by swinging the dildo over her head and then letting it go, making it thwhack the brick wall behind her and fall down behind her feet with a thud.
The only problem was that people actually lived at Kilby Court and there were a couple apartment windows that ran along the wall that we were using as our Kwiky Mart. So we were really careful to choreograph the dildo-throw to make sure that it always hit the bricks and only the bricks.
I was elated when closing night arrived. After a series of ugly arguments, my relationship with my frenemy had devolved to fit under the less complicated “enemy” category. We were a handful of livid phone calls away from never speaking to one another again. The audience turn-out was a less than half of what we had hoped for. Everyone involved in the company was losing money, and I couldn’t take the stress much longer.
I was sitting in the audience, thinking “all I have to do is get through this performance, unload a ton of rain-sopped hay, disassemble two stories of scaffolding, return it to the construction company, and I will be done with Saint Jayne’s and I’ll never have to do theatre again…” when, something went wrong with Suze’s dildo-throw. For some reason, after weeks of perfect executions, the throw went wild and the dildo sailed through the air and disappeared through one of the darkened apartment windows with a slap and the tinkle of shattered glass. The audience must have known that wasn’t the plan, because that was the only night we didn’t get a big laugh. There was some laughter but it was mostly uncomfortable.
“Oh my God, ohmigod, ohmahGAWD!” I was thinking, as I snuck out of the audience by squeezing through a gap in the hay. “We’ve killed someone. We’ve killed someone. At the very least, we’ve killed someone’s cat…”
I I pictured a leathery old man – recently homeless, reentering society through the devalued rental property of Kilby Court – sitting in a rocking chair and reading a tattered paperback copy of Keats poems. When suddenly, without warning, there was a crashing sound and… “wisht, wisht, wisht…” something long and purple spinning through the air, and then, “BAM!” right to the forehead, knocking him backward, over, and out of the rocking chair! And then, SILENCE. Death by dildo…
I found one of the managers at Kilby – a really nice guy named Mike – and I told him what had happened. He told me not to worry about it. He said he knew the guy pretty well, and he would talk to him. I snuck back into the audience and watched the rest of the play, which unfolded without further incident, but I was distracted. We were going to be sued; I was sure of it. I was twenty-four, unemployed, and done with theatre. And, at that moment, I was quite certain that I was going to have to go into some sort of indentured servitude to pay for the ex-homeless man’s funeral and a new window for Kilby Court. At that point in my life, I would have had to go into indentured servitude just to buy the man a new cat.
But after the show, I found Mike again to see what he found out and he told me the man wasn’t home. “Whew. That’s a relief,” I said.
“Trust me; it’s fine. I’ll talk to him when he gets home.”
I expected to hear more, but I never did. I wasn’t even contacted about paying for the new window, which I thought was the least that would happen. About half of the cast showed up to help me return the scaffolding to the construction company, and a friend with a truck was kind enough to come and take all the hay out of Kilby. I was done with the show and I promised myself that I would never use my degree in theatre again, and I have mostly kept that promise.
Then, ten years later, I spent a weekend this fall at a writer’s retreat in southern Utah. I was one of six other writers staying on a small ranch outside the desert town of Torrey. We were all from Salt Lake City and we spent the days writing and the evenings talking about writing and making one another laugh.
One of the writers was a musician named Jeremy Chatelain. Jeremy has toured with a bunch of east coast bands over the years, but he has also been in a lot of bands here in Utah. Another writer remembered him from a band called Iceburn Collective and the two of them started talking about these old local Utah bands that I’ve never heard of. In fact, I was basically tuning out of the conversation until he mentioned that he had been in a band with a guy named Gentry.
I interjected then and said, “Wait, Gentry Densley?”
And Jeremy said, “No way, you know Gentry?”
And I said, “No, not at all. But I remember that his band played at a fundraiser for a theatre company I worked for a decade ago called Saint Jayne’s. He was great.”
Another one of the writers named Adam said, “I remember Saint Jayne’s.”
“That’s not possible,” I said. “We lasted one summer and no one came to our shows.”
“Oh no, I remember. I was living in an apartment at Kilby Court that summer. And they were doing a play called Suburbia. And I remember that I came home from a late shift at the hospital one night to find broken glass everywhere and I giant purple dildo in my bed. And this guy, Mike, who was running things at Kilby, came running in and was like ‘oh dude, I was hoping to catch you before you got home… I wanted to try to explain…’ But I was like, ‘Dude!? How? How could you ever explain THIS?”
And I said, “Oh my God… I’ve spent the last ten years wanting to ask you if you were okay! I remember watching it go through the window and thinking, ‘oh Christ what have we done?’ So let me just finally officially say to you, I am very very sorry about that.”
I didn’t think we would ever stop laughing. I was relieved to find that he wasn’t angry. He was just disappointed that they didn’t let him keep the dildo.
“I was going to frame it and hang it on the wall so I could point to it when I told the story.” Then he pointed at a random spot on the wall and said, in an old man voice, “And that thar is the very same dildo that came through my window that night…”
“Really?” I said. “Because we didn’t get it back! I would have let you keep it, for sure. Mike would have known you shouldn’t use it after it’s been in contact with broken glass, right?”
The next morning we told the rest of the writers the story and Adam said, “I’ve been telling that story for so long now, as an example of the texture of Kilby Court and what it was like to live there. Who knew I would come down to Boulder Utah and meet the person from the other end of that dildo?”