Best Seat in the House

I went to Pub or Perish last night.  I thought I was there early enough, but I didn’t see any seats available.  After loitering around for a few minutes, I saw some guys get up and leave, so I casually wandered over to their table.  I put my hand on the back of one of the chairs at about the same time that an older lady came up and did the same thing.

We smiled shyly at each other, and she asked, “Oh!  Are you sitting here?”

I admitted that I’d been thinking about it, but the lady, whose name is Ann, agreed that since we’d both come alone, we’d just sit together.  We chatted a bit, and when another lady sidled up to our table, Ann asked if she was looking for a place to sit.  She offered our extra seat, adding, “We just met!”  When she said it, the arrangement seemed like a such a lark.

Now, I knew that the other lady was Dorothy Allison, the author of Bastard Out of Carolina which has led to my mild 5 year obsession with the idea of people washing their hair in baby urine, but Ann didn’t.  Dorothy introduced herself and we shook hands all around.  I didn’t know what to say, really, but Ann talked about some of the panels she’d seen earlier and eventually we chatted pretty companionably.  At some point, it came out that our newest tablemate was a writer who would be reading that night.  Ann asked me if I’d known that, and I admitted that I’d read one of her books.

We ordered food.  Lots of people came over to introduce themselves to Dorothy, and every time she introduced me and Ann.  I found it both embarrassing and a little thrilling because I felt like a total fraud sitting there as if I knew or had some connection to Ms. Allison.

I spent about 20 minutes having an inner debate with myself, but I finally took a deep breath and asked the pee question.

Look, I’m not sure that it was appropriate, but I figured I’d never get another chance.  I had to, right?  Taking a deep breath, I dove in.  “Can I ask you about a detail I’ve been obsessed with for a long time?”  She said yes, so I said, “The scene where they talk about washing a woman’s hair with baby pee…is that a real thing?  Are people doing that?”

“My sister did it,” she told me.  Apparently, you mix it with lemon juice and it’s supposed to lighten your hair (not to make it shiny, which is how I remembered it).  She went on to add that using hair dye was considered sinful at the time, but the urine/lemon juice solution was considered….

“Using what God’s given you?” I asked.

“Going green,” Ann chimed in.  Ann turns out to be a pretty great dinner companion.

Eventually, it was Dorothy’s turn to read.  She did a story I really liked that I think she said was called “Anytime.”  She read well, too, with emotion and at a good pace.  When it was over, Ann leaned over to me and said, “She’s really very talented.”  Indeed.

I wanted to ask for a picture with Dorothy, but she when she’d paid her tab, she left to say hello to some people at a nearby table who’d come and chatted with her earlier.  After the reading was finished, Ann and I went our separate ways.

But today as I was walking through the Main Library on my way to hear Wells Tower (who read an essay involving him both peeing on and at another time throwing hot brownies at his brother.  Do I even have to tell you that it was awesome?), I heard someone say my name.  I turned to see Ann, who was with another woman.  She introduced me as her “new friend, Ashley,” and I might have blushed at the sweetness of that phrasing.  I told her it was good to see her again, and I totally meant it.

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