FAIRHOPE—This upstairs sewing room belongs to John’s wife, Celia. There are ironing boards, quilting looms, sewing machines, and a five-piece bluegrass band crammed into a tight space.
We are recording music tonight. The band, Blue Mullet, is making the music, and I’m singing along like a tone-deaf bloodhound.
The recording equipment is set up on an ironing board. All the musicians gather around an old-fashioned microphone that looks like something from the stage of the “Louisiana Hayride” radio show.
The band warms up and I’m listening through headphones while the “levels” get adjusted.
Levels. That’s a professional recording term. Pros are always talking about levels. When you record, your levels are always getting adjusted, checked, prodded, operated on, stabbed, massacred, resuscitated, and in some cases eulogized.
The fiddle player takes a solo. He plays so beautifully that makes you tear up and completely overlook the Saint Louis Cardinals cap he’s wearing.
My old man always said there were two kinds of people in this world: Those who love the Cardinals, and those who go to Heaven.
That’s just a joke of course. I don’t know what happens to Cardinals fans after they get released from Purgatory.
Anyway, what I’m getting at is: Blue Mullet is a dang good band, Cardinals hats notwithstanding, and they have a great band name.
I’ve visited states where people don’t even know what a mullet is. A lot of people think it’s a style of haircut (shaved on the sides and long in back). But anyone who has ever fished the brackish bay water knows what a true mullet is.
My youth was spent on such a bay. On the shores of the Choctawhatchee, I tried to teach myself to throw a mullet castnet, but I never got the hang of it. I am a simple rod-and-reel man.
Many of my friends were mullet fishermen, though. They could hurl ten-foot nets that unfurled over the water like parachutes. Between casts, they’d reach into coolers and grab cans of Natural Light beer.
Mullet fishermen always drink Natural Light. It’s in the rule book. Whereas big-game fishermen drink fancy wine or Wild Turkey, the humble mullet hunter drinks “Natty” in the can, or whatever he finds on clearance at Al’s Liquor Mart.
Where I live mullet fishing is a big deal. We even have a huge festival called the Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival. Out-of-towners get a kick out of the name because when they hear “mullet” they immediately think of the hairstyle.
Thus, a lot of people assume the festival is filled with millions of men wearing half-shirts and mullet cuts. But the Mullet Festival is so much more than that. There are also millions of women wearing half-shirts and mullet cuts.
We used to go to the festival every year. Mainly because in Okaloosa and Walton County there was never anything to do in October but sit on your thumbs and complain about the weather. Or the Cardinals.
One year, my cousin, Ed Lee, and I went to the Mullet Festival to see Kenny Rogers perform. My cousin was a huge Kenny fan.
No sooner had we gotten inside the park than my cousin and I got separated amidst a sea of dated hairstyles and NASCAR hats. I couldn’t find him anywhere. I screamed his name, but it was too loud to hear.
The opening band was playing. There was hollering, dancing, and children running around shirtless. Many women in the audience were not wearing enough to floss their teeth with.
I decided I should move near the stage so I could get a better view. So I elbowed my way through the dense fog of body odor, barely making it past the security guards who were bigger than GE refrigeration appliances.
I stood on the stage steps overlooking an army of Billy Ray Cyrus hairdos and microscopically small cutoff jean shorts. I saw my cousin on the periphery of the crowd.
I waved my arms. I hollered.
And it was at this exact moment that I was asked to step aside by a man with a white beard. It was Kenny himself. I was so nervous that I uttered words which I will never forget:
“Hi ya, Ken.”
Before he could answer, three security guys became extremely aware of my presence and I ran like hailfire.
When I finally reached my cousin he asked, “What were you doing onstage?”
I played it cool. “Oh, I was hanging out with Ken.”
“Ken, that’s what his friends call him.”
Ed Lee was green with jealousy because he actually believed I’d been with Kenny himself. In fact, for many years he not only believed me, but held it against me. I know this because on the night of his wedding reception he tried to drown me in an outdoor fountain while screaming the lyrics to “The Gambler.”
Blue Mullet plays their last song, and it’s perfect. We finish recording and everyone is out of breath.
John opens a bottle of wine to celebrate our perfect levels. He pairs this fancy wine with Keebler E.L. Fudgewitch Double Stuffed Cookies. The guys in the band are all toasting.
I take a sip. I wince. I’m not a big wine guy, I can’t get past the bitter flavor because no matter how you fight it, in this life, you are who you are.
“What’s the matter?” says John. “Don’t like wine?”
“Well, what would you like?”
What I’d like is to set fire to that Cardinals hat.