Tuesday, July 21, 2009

elvis and oatmeal cookies.

Currently listening to: No Surprise by Daughtry
Lines of Fabulosity: It was a September morning, hazy with late summer, and now with all the years in between. - from A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

Sarah told me the most fantastic story the other day and I knew I would kill it if I tried to retell it. So here's the story in her own words. Both my best friends are witty and hilarious. I wish I could bribe them to contribute regular features to the Swamp. Maybe someday :) Here's Sarah:

So, I'm sitting at the kitchen table in my house on my pond-front property, (lakes are so last year) minding my own business when I notice a couple in the distance taking a walk around the pond. Normally, I wouldn't pay that much attention, but she was wearing a cocktail dress and four-inch heels, and he was wearing a suit of some sort (They were too far away for me to discern any details about the suit). I think to myself that if I were going to take a leisurely stroll around the pond, I'd put on some comfy shoes, but whatever. I go back to what I was doing, but when I look up again, the couple had stopped on the sidewalk, looking at the ducks, geese, etc., directly behind my house. Now, I get the full picture. Not only was this guy wearing a suit, but it was a white jumpsuit! He was also wearing a wig, big sunglasses, and a scarf....Yes, that's right, he was dressed like ELVIS!!!!! And there they were, strolling hand in hand around the pond like...well...like he wasn't dressed as Elvis. I tried to take a picture, but there was no way to do so inconspicuously. So from my kitchen I yelled, "Why is there no one else here to see this?!"

I don't know if Elvis is her neighbor *fingers crossed*, or just a passerby, but the story caused me to pause for some reflection. (How could it not?)

I've lived in three different places since moving to this city. The first residence was on a quiet little road mostly full of sweet elderly folks. Mostly. Beside my house was a two-story crumbling brick structure that was probably very lovely in its time. Now it looks more like a haunted house and this is appropriate, because it is home to a man named Don. My family and I call him Chicken Don. This is why:

One day when I was home typing up a masterpiece*, I thought I heard something in the garage. I opened the door to find a scrawny old man staring wild-eyed around as though he'd never seen a Civic or a garage full of junk. You would think, since I had just moved back from Dallas, I would remember to keep the garage door shut. Alas. I opened the door and said, "Can I help you?" Always a wrong move, kids. Never open the door for strangers.

"Yes!" His eyes had this weird shimmer about them when he spoke. "I'm your next-door neighbor, Don. My friend The Butcher just gave me some fresh chicken. I have no room in my freezer. I was wondering if I could put it in your freezer instead."** Note he said this as a statement, not as a question.

To make a long story short, I stood there in a daze while Don walked into my residence carrying a blue bag of fresh dead chicken; all slimy and wet and stank nasty. The smell almost caused major barfage. He ended up putting all twenty pounds of stinky chicken in the freezer that day (actually he made ME put it in because he said he had a bad back). It was so weird, creepy, and gross. I don't know why I let him in. My dad dropped by Don's Haunted Mansion on the way home and told Don there was no room for the nastiness. Don said he didn't like chicken and didn't know what else to do with it. Then he offered Dad the rotisseries that were in boxes on top of his car (?). Dad passed. It took days for the smell to leave, even after the chicken was gone.

There are more stories. (Because Don is like a character in a sit-com that kept popping up when you least expected it.) Once, I almost ran over him while he was driving his lawnmower around the loopy road sans a shirt. Another time, I saw him pop up out of a hole in his roof like a prairie dog. I saw him burying a jar in his yard. Another time, he asked my brother if he could help him transport a water heater. When he asked this, my brother was on crutches recovering from a serious car wreck. Don the Chicken Man was a step beyond eccentric, is all I'm getting at.


The second set of neighbors were total sweeties. They looked like fun grandparents. The man's name was Cad (can't remember what it was short for ... maybe Cadberry) and he looked, and talked, just like Alan Arkin. While I was moving, Cad came over to say hello. First, he told me Paperdoll was fabulous (real men read Paperdoll; it's a fact). Then he said, "I wanted to come say hello because I have something important to tell you. You can use it in your writings!"

I sat down on the tail gate of the truck, kicking my legs back and forth, while Cad filled me in on his recent trip to North Carolina. He was going to visit his son and, because of his son's location, it was easier to go through Atlanta than Knoxville. Atlanta. Oh, Atlanta. My niece calls it Spaghetti Junction because the roads are such a twisty turny mess. Atlanta rocks but I think even natives would agree with me in saying the traffic stinks.

I'm paraphrasing a bit, but Cad's story went like this:

"So I was driving through Atlanta last weekend, trying to read my son's instructions. And while I was moving through this heavy traffic, I realized I was going the wrong way," he waved his arms around to illustrate his frustration. "Now you've been to Atlanta, right? It's impossible to get turned around once you go the wrong way. I was so frustrated and I knew it would add hours onto my time."

He crossed his arms again. "So finally my son called and I told him what I'd done. And he said, 'Oh, dad. It's no big deal. You just keep going the way you're going and you'll get here. Without realizing it, you took the right way. All that time, when I was so frustrated, I was going the right way. Do you see the point of this story, young lady?"

Cad is a teacher, has been for years. I have a feeling he's one of those really fantastic teachers whose awesomeness you don't even fully realize until you're an adult. He knows how to make a point. "This is what I learned," he said. "And this is what I couldn't wait to tell you: I learned that even when I don't know where the heck I'm going, God does. And he always gets me pointed in the right direction again. It may take longer. You may get stuck, and frustrated, and you may take all kinds of stupid detours. Sometimes all you know to do is move ahead. And, ya know what? That's all you need to do. Just keep going. He gets you where you need to be."

He smiled and leaned away from the truck. "So there ya go," he winked. "You can use that in your writings."

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I get to write it and share it with you :) But I think I needed the story for myself before I needed to write it. I had boxes around my feet from three different places I'd lived in, all of which I'd moved from, all of which I considered complete failures. I felt like a failure every time I picked the boxes up, like the heaviness of my loserdom was weighing down my heart all over again. But I also had one little goofy dream tucked into my heart, and, as dreams often do, it felt as light as a feather. It's a dream that has always been there, that I keep jumping states to get away from. And for the first time I considered something rather crazy: what if all those epic loser moments were taking me back to that moment, back to the road I needed to be on, back to a dream I thought was impossible. Back to a dream I never would have chased unless every other option had fizzled. Sometimes you're not as lost as you think you are.

Whether your neighbor is a chicken man, an Elvis impersonator, or a sweet guy named Cad whose wife makes incredible oatmeal cookies, there are two things I feel I should tell you here. Well, three. First, don't open the door for strangers. Second, there are really cool stories happening all around you all the time. Be on the lookout. Please take a picture if Elvis is involved. And three, if all you know how to do right now is move ahead, then keep moving. You may not be as stuck as you think you are.

So there ya go. Feel free to use that in your writings ;) Any fun neighbor stories you want to share?

Tooth hurty ... get it? *ltms*
"I'm an elephant trainer. Look at me, I'm driving a bus!" *hahahaha*

* Or watching The Barefoot Contessa. Whatever.
** An appropriate response: Well my friends The Baker and The Candlestick Maker say, "Not a chance. Now get out of my garage."


  1. Our Apartment is on the 2nd floor of a 3 floor home... Our washer hookup is kind of ghetto, but we still earn cool points for even owning a washer in NYC. When we wash clothes we have to run a hose from the washer to the bathtub for the water to drain, and to keep the hose in place there is an elaborate system involving velcro and an old mop handle. One day I was home alone washing the clothes, and after a while of TV watching, I went to the bathroom to see if it was time to switch the laundry to the dryer... My bathroom had an inch was water on the floor and the hose was flapping about with more water spewing. I turned off the washer and as I started throwing every towel we own onto the floor there was a pounding on my door... It was Pedro, our 60-something latino downstairs neighbor. He was standing there in his boxers and wife-beater (surprisingly not an uncommon outfit for him to hang out in the halls or on the stoop wearing) with an extremely mad look on his face. He starts telling me how his bathroom ceiling is leaking and I tell him I know, I'm taking care of it, and I turn away to go back to cleaning it up and he follows me in and stands at my bathroom door watching me as I clean it. I got it up and listened to him complain some more and finally shoved him out. OH WAIT!!! there's a better Pedro/laundry story...

    Just after we got our washer and dryer and were thinking about how awesome we were for owning them, we did our first load. It was winter time so it was cold outside. Our dryer's exhaust hose hooked out a hole in the wall and burst it's hot air out behind the house and made some fun fog as it hit the cold air. Well... it didn't take long for a pounding on our door... As we opened it we saw Pedro standing there huffing and puffing and wearing his boxers, wife-beater and a look of horror on his face. He held his hand to his chest as he screamed, "Fire! There's a fire!" "What?! Where?!" "Coming from your bathroom!" He seemed personally offended that our apt. wasn't on fire once we showed him what was happening.

  2. James, I am laughing a lot. That is fantastic! Do you watch the show How I Met Your Mother? Lily moves into a different appartment when she and Marshall break up. Her neighbor reminds me of how you describe Pedro. Thank you for sharing your funny story :)

  3. Hi, thanks for this post, i enjoyed it quite a bit. I always like hearing about Chicken Don... And the bit about 'wrong way being the right way', very thoughtful, very encouraging, i kind of need that at the moment.

  4. Love this!

    Chicken Don? That is definitely a movie-worthy experience, haha.

    And thank you for sharing that story! (I live near Atlanta, GA... there IS one part of it that is actually called Spaghetti Junction. lol Oh, and definitely agree about the in-city traffic.) I really needed to hear that.

    By the way, I commented a while back on the post called 'a haunted castle' (with the picture of Anne of Green Gables), using my Wordpress account. It told me the comment was waiting for approval, but it doesn't look like it ever went through. It was probably nothing important (I don't even remember what I wrote), but I just wanted to find out if you ever got it?

    Anyways, awesome blog, Natalie! I love visiting it. :) And if I see Elvis anywhere, I will definitely take a picture for you!

  5. Steve, love it when you stop by the blog! I'm so there with you on the right way/wrong way bit. Every time I think I know what I'm doing ... I quickly learn I do not :) I've had this old CCM lyric stuck in my head lately, "every road leads me back to you ..." (No, it's not Rascal Flatts. I think it was Michael O'Brien but I cant remember). Anyway. Glad it was an encouragement to you. And I'm glad Chicken Don stories bring you joy.

    RT, glad you stopped by! :) Is spaghetti junction near Grady Hospital? Because that was the first time I heard her say it. I thought it was adorable. Way to keep it cute, Atlanta! :) About your comment ... I never saw it! I have this blog set up so anybody can comment but I'm new to the blogger format. Is there a place where I need to go approve comments? I'll check into this. So sorry I missed it :( Regardless, I'm glad you said hello! :) (Your blog is super cute, btw.)

  6. Oh, I like Cad! That is such a sweet story! I've been on the lookout for more Elvis sightings, but so far, none. I'm still thinking about calling my house Graceland East...

  7. Thank you for your prayers for my test! While it was still very difficult, I feel better about it than I did the last one (which I failed). The vibe I'm getting is a C-B range, which I am not normally satisfied with, but this class is an exception. :) Thank you so much!

    I was also wondering if it's possible to buy Paperdoll from you directly, or from your publisher, or some way that would make sure that you got the most money back for it. :) I feel leery about buying from big companies because I wonder where the money goes. What do you think? :) -Abby

  8. PS) I love Sesame Street. At once point in elementary school I wanted to work for Children's Television Workshop. :) Thank you for posting the song.

  9. Abby, C-B range is excellent! I don't know what class this is, but Math was always the class that drove me crazy. In fact, my math scores on my first ACT go were remedial (and my second attempt was just one point above). I remember being so horribly frustrated with math classes in high school. Nobody could explain it in a way I could understand it. The college major I picked is one I picked because I didn't have to take any math classes. I had to deal with lower grades in and it frustrated me to no end. One dumb class always dropped my GPA - yar! And yet, when I got to college, I finally got to a point where I aimed for no higher than a B or C regardless of the subject ... but, uh, that is probably not good advice to be dispensing on the blog I suppose so ... :)

    That's such a sweet question you asked! You can buy Paperdoll directly from the publisher if you want (regalbooks.com). All the big online retailers I know of are legit too. Places like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Target, christianbook.com ... there are probably others. But I know all those are legit. It works out the same for me and my publisher no matter where you go. If you have a little bookstore in your hometown, you can go to indybound.org to see if they have it in stock there too. Stores like LifeWay and Family Christian should have it on the shelf, if you live close to one of those. I think it's particularly awesome though that you want to know where your money goes when you shop. I'm always leary of big ginormous companies too. Way to be smart!

    Also, I am wild about Sesame Street :) I bet working for them would be the most fun job ever!

  10. I don't really have any weird neighbor stories...our neighbor is strange, but mostly because of the alcohol he consumes. This isn't a good thing, I know, but it's sort of interesting that he paints his truck a different color every time he's had too much to drink.
    The Elvis part of this blog cracked me up, because I'm a huge Elvis fan. My family took a trip to Memphis four or five years ago. My parents left me and my brother in the hotel and walked down to Graceland one night, to film how beautiful it is lit up at nighttime. My mom zoomed in to the meditation garden (where there are Elvis and his family's graves and some statues and benches), which was dimly lit, and she saw someone standing there. She thought it was Elvis, or at least someone who had broken into the meditation garden to take part in some sinister plot, such as stealing his body. When we went back the next day, we saw it was only a statue standing near the graves. It was disappointing, but the two Spanish guys dressed up in Elvis wigs and jumpsuits in the hotel lobby almost made up for it. =)

  11. Your Chicken Don story cracks me up. So funny.

    Also, Cad's story is so great to me. I've never really thought of it quite like that, but it makes sense. Sometimes, I think God likes detours--they kind of force us to trust Him. If we're always on an easy, straight path and can see exactly where we're headed, we tend to forget that we still need His guidance every step of the way. We need all of life's twists and turns in order to show us that we can't get anywhere without Him.

  12. Kristen, this story cracks me up. I am the same way in the dark! I think I see people all the time. In high school, my sweet friends used to drag me to a place in my hometown called "the glowing grave". You drive down this dark backroad and sit there and, eventually, you see the grave light up. (My mom has since explained it's the type of rock.) I always thought I saw something and it was always a tree or a branch or whatever. But still. :) Graceland sounds like a fun trip! I live in TN but I've never been.

    Anon, agree, totally. I am convinced I will never understand some "detours" but there is a cool kind of peace that comes with trust. Trust is a toughie for me, but I'm getting there. Thanks for stopping by :)

  13. Also Kristen, I just tried to leave a comment on your blog and it wouldn't work. I was going to tell you that 1.) I think Elvis is fantastic. How beautiful was his voice? I like "Suspicious Minds" and "I Can't Help (Falling in Love With You)" in particular. But my favorite song he sang was "Always on my Mind". It's one of my favorite songs ever - something about it nails me every time. My dad is a big fan of Elvis movies so I've seen plenty of those too. 'Kissing Cousins' is my favorite :) I was also going to tell you 2.) the bags you make are gorgeous!

  14. The glowing grave sounds interesting. It disappoints me that strange happenings can usually be explained in some scientific way. We have this place nearby called "Gravity Hill", where you put your car in park (or neutral or something) and your car is pulled backwards up a hill. It's supposed to be an illusion or something, LOL, but I've never actually got to do it. Not to mention that it's kind of dangerous to put your car in park in the middle of a curvy backroad. =)
    I don't know why the comment thing on my blog wasn't working, but I think it might be fixed now. I'm new to this blog stuff. =) I love all three of those Elvis songs, too. Elvis and Frank Sinatra have my favorite voices in oldies music, which is mostly what I listen to (Jon Foreman and Matthew Theissen are my favorite "new" voices, LOL). Poor Elvis, he wanted to be a serious film actor. It's too bad they only gave him silly roles that would bring in a lot of money. I haven't seen "Kissing Cousins" yet. Thanks for the compliment on my sewing. =)

  15. Kristen, I'm with you. I'm a sucker for unexplained happenings. They fascinate me even when they scare me :) I think Kissing Cousins (what a bizarro name :) is the one with the toilet that explodes instead of flushing. That always made me laugh, because my humor is so immature. I think that's the one where Elvis plays two roles ... sort of like the Parent Trap but not as good ... ;) I might be mixing up my movies though. I remember liking Viva Las Vegas too when I was a kid. One of my baby-sitters watched it over and over and over.

  16. Yeah, I haven't seen it but I've read that he does play two parts in that one. I've always loved shows/movies that did that, even if sometimes it was cheesy. =) I do like "Viva Las Vegas," too. I never thought I would, because I don't like the whole Las Vegas thing, but it's one of his better movies. I also like "G.I. Blues" (it's really funny) and "Blue Hawaii."
    By the way, I finished reading "Paperdoll" yesterday, and I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed it. Especially the chapter on waiting for Gilbert, because that's something I've been dealing with lately. I just recently read a lot of the Leslie and Eric Ludy books about letting God write your love story, and your chapter went right along with that. And the part about Monkey's Paw Theology is something I deal with, too. I've been afraid that if I let God have my dream of falling in love, getting married, and raising a family, then He might make me be an old maid, or at least wait 20 or 30 years until I find the right guy, to teach me a lesson or something. Thanks for reminding me that God's not like that. I've always struggled with self-image and confidence, and your book was pages and pages full of encouragement and hope. Thanks for that, and just know that God is using you and your words to help others!

  17. Kristin, Thank you so much for your kind words! I'm glad you liked Paperdoll :) About Gilbert: I think the church has a knack for tossing out weird (often callous) sentiments to people who are still waiting for the right person (or actively looking for the right person. Whatever. :) However, I think every longing you have is there for a reason, especially when it comes to marriage and family. Don't lose heart. The right guy is out there :)

  18. Yeah, I know what you mean...like, "Are you engaged yet?" I know they're only joking, but I'm 18. "You've got to get out there and meet guys or you'll never get married!" Or, "Do you want a boyfriend?" (No, I want to be an old maid with fourteen cats.) It seems like these words are constantly leaving my mouth..."I'm waiting for the right guy." It doesn't make it any better that my sixteen year old brother is sitting next to me with his girlfriend. Thankfully, there are a few people in my church who really understand me and encourage me in my wishful waiting for Mr. Darcy/Gilbert/Mr. Right. =)