I think the time has come to lift the veil of silence that has long masked this aspect of the performer's life, and that I am the man best qualified to perform this unmasking.
A thing I learned early in my performing career is you don't drive to a show in your work clothes. The seat of your pants wrinkle and the knees sag. One time I had a show in Johnson City, a three hour drive. It was August, a blistering month, so I dressed for a long drive in humid weather: shorts, tank top, sandals. My tux was in a suit bag. I planned to stop near the country club, change into the tux and stride into the venue in glorious sartorial splendor. I found a place to make my change, MAMAW'S QUIK STOP, a small filth-encrusted store and gas station. I got the key to the restroom (connected to a hockey puck by a bicycle chain) and walked around back.
Three disreputable homeless chaps loafed near the restroom; passing a bottle of what was clearly homemade lightning. They nodded and offered southern pleasantries; "Huh;" "Hey buddy;” "Howdy thar;" I nodded back. One toothless fellow, custodian of the communal jug, offered me a drink. I waved it away. "No thanks."
I entered the tiny building wearing cutoff denim shorts and a tank top. Ignoring the mingled odors of ancient urine, stale tobacco, staler beer, and the yeasty byproducts of various erotic adventures, five minutes later I emerged in a tuxedo, freshly shaved, hair slicked with gel. The old parties stopped their boozing in mid-swig, frozen in tableau like the three magi from
a Christmas display. They gazed in goggle-eyed wonderment at this splendid vision of elegance that had so casually appeared amidst their squalid lot, as though conjured from the very bottle they passed between them.
One of them found his voice. He asked, "Are yew James Bond?"
Of all the dank, fetid, putrescent, cankerous, foul pestholes in which I've been forced to seek refuge on my various travels, one in particular festers with awful virulence in my mind. I'll share it with you.
My son and I were en route from Tennessee to Indiana when sheer hydraulic pressure forced us off the road. We stopped in Jellico in search of a restroom. We pulled into a gas station and my son braved the unknown frontier first. He almost immediately burst forth, gasping for air, face a pale green. “Don’t go in there,” he wheezed. “It’s appalling.”
Shrugging, I entered the cinderblock enclosure. After all, biological imperatives cannot be ignored, and I was the battle-scarred veteran of far worse hellholes than this. Or so I thought.
It was bad. At first I thought a possum had exploded. Then I speculated perhaps some local had curbed his mule. The floor, rear wall, and yes—even the ceiling were spattered with stinking liquid, solids and some other writhing, seemingly semi-sentient material the constitution of which is still under debate by scientists from Oak Ridge. I didn't succumb to the venomous fumes because I was veteran of the road long enough to have mastered the yogic skill of holding my breath for the twelve and a half minutes necessary to complete my business, wash my hands and check my grooming in the mirror.
It occurred to me that if a person—a human being—had been responsible for this anomaly, then the following scenario must have played out. The hapless participant would have had to begin the procedure in the usual position. Then the inexorable reaction of Newtonian Law would have forced him first into a horizontal attitude and then, as the Vesuvius-like eruption continued, pressed his head to the floor until his, ah nether parts pointed straight toward the ceiling! I calculated the necessary vector equations in the grime-smeared mirror, and it was at this point I realized no natural process could have generated sufficient force, and supernatural agencies had to be at work. As calmly as I could I backed from the mausoleum and shut the door before I fell victim to a similar fate at the hands of demonic assailants.
I found my son wandering around outside, apparently still in shock. I helped him to the car, where he recovered slowly from his toxic experience with the harsher realities of life on the road. In his own words, "I lost feeling in my extremities. I grew cold all over, like I was dying. My legs shook. I almost didn't make it out the door. I saw spots before my eyes and I was trembling all over, like I'd inhaled nerve gas."
These are common symptoms experienced by novices when entering southern rest stops. The merest whiff of that air is more debilitating than serin. The trick to ensure survival is to take a deep breath before entering, hold it until you're finished, TOUCH NOTHING with your skin, and try not to look at anything, lest your psyche be scarred forever. Some things the mind of man was never meant to contemplate, and the feculent contents of southern public restrooms fall into that category along with the secrets of sausage factories and the inner workings of sunken R'lyeh.