In Atlanta, we sleep late and I am drafted to make breakfast. The house has a beautiful giant kitchen with every possible knife and seasoning, plus the flexible cutting mats I like. Stefanie scrounges up some potatoes, pre-cooked bacon, eggs, and cheese. I am a little worried when we can’t find oil besides a spray, but some materializes and we are in business. I heat up some olive oil in a large pan and throw in sliced onions, turning the heat on as high as I can stand. The pan is thin and conducts heat extremely well, and the burners are way stronger than I am used to. At first I’m worried about charring some of the onions, but I fall into a rhythm with it and grow confident. This will be good. The idea is to make the onions sort of dissolve into the potatoes and become one substance. The browner they get, the better, and some char is okay because it will add earthiness to the potatoes as they would have if I baked them for a longer time. I add seasoned salt, black pepper, cumin, and chili powder and let nature take its course. Once the onions are all translucent-to-brown I throw in diced potatoes, skins on. I add some paprika, more seasoned salt and pepper, and herbs de Provence. Herbs de Provence are a relatively new addition to my breakfast potato repertoire, inspired by a fancy brunch Dorthy and I had a few months back. It’s basically every green herb you’d think to add to potatoes all mixed up into nice proportions for you. The herbs really come alive when they make contact with egg yolk, which makes them spread out and bloom on your palate. Potatoes are bland and require a heavy hand with the seasonings if they’re going to be the base of a dish. I stir periodically, and once some of the potatoes start to get brown and all have made some significant contact with the bottom of the pan I put the lid on and reduce the heat. The idea is to slightly steam them in their own evaporated water as the bottom layer browns on the hot pan surface, which will cook the insides more evenly, increase seasoning penetration, and speed up the time. I get started on the precooked bacon, which heats up immediately and crisps up nicely but deprives me of the precious fat I usually rely on for eggs. I’ll have to do them in olive oil too. After a couple more rounds of stirring and covering, it’s egg time. I sprinkle a four cheese blend on top of the potatoes, cover, and put the heat down as low as possible. By the time the eggs are done it’ll be a nice melty layer on top, and I can easily divide the pan into six portions with my spatula as though it were a pie. The farm fresh eggs take some getting used to. After I break a few yolks Stefanie sees my trouble and tells me I have to drop them as close to the pan as possible. That helps a lot, and my last two batches are much more even. Carlos grabs our fancy bread from Richmond and throws some thick slices in the toaster, and it’s time to eat. The potatoes are a huge hit. I succeeded in fully incorporating the onions, and they are rich and flavorful throughout. The only thing I’d change is thicker bacon, but all in all we are fortunate to have had all these ingredients and it is a complete and delicious meal. I so envy this kitchen, Dorthy and I would whip up some real masterpieces in there. The next place we live will have a bigger kitchen, for sure. No, I didn’t take a picture. It looked like potatoes.
As I start making moves to pack, I encounter Rowley, a dog. Rowley is an older gentleman who looks like some sort of Scottie mix but larger. He would not look out of place wearing a newsboy cap. He is friendly and wants to hang. We play with his frisbee for a bit. His coat is thick and wiry. He has an odd way of sitting upright on the couch as a human does. A good boy. This is my first substantive dog interaction of tour and it is great. Eventually we tear ourselves away and head off to Knoxville.
Knoxville is the home of our booking agent, Chris, who also put together the bill tonight at Pilot Light. We go around the corner to Urban Bar for a quick dinner on the bartender’s recommendation. He says there are better options around but they’re more expensive, and Urban Bar is just normal good enough bar food. The straightforwardness is appealing. We run into Chris and his mom and some of his bandmates inside. The food is exactly what we are told it would be. I get a totally normal burger. They do have roasted corn with poblano peppers as a side dish available in lieu of fries, and that is much appreciated. I have been going pretty hard with the starch lately, and any fry alternative that isn’t a shitty salad is appreciated. We finish and return to Pilot Light.
Opener Church comes out in a strapless black dress, heels, and a black facemask and puts on a fantastic show, with just a mic and some samples. It’s dark, sexy dancey music. There’s even a cover of the song from Armageddon, which I make a brief video of and send to my partner back home. She is a huge cornball and loves that movie, and she is indeed pleased. Church has a beautiful voice. Talking afterwards, I’m surprised to learn they’re actually from New York. They’re just here because they’re friends with Chris. Most people we talk to seem to be friends with Chris, and it’s clear he’s important to live music in Knoxville. The room has filled up nicely by the time we go on.
This is our first set of the tour with a quick line check instead of a proper soundcheck, and we all feel the difference. Church sounds great in the house, and I’m told we sound great too, but onstage the monitor mixes are kind of a mess. I don’t think it’s the sound guy’s fault, there’s just not a lot you can do with all our inputs in the time allotted. After eight or nine years we’ve become the sort of band we used to gently mock: the band that has a bunch of synths and samplers and Needs Soundcheck. Gone are the days of rolling in late and plugging in and winging it. It is a fun show in spite of that, we play well and the crowd is into it. Pilot Light feels cozy, and the vibe is positive. The only thing I’d change is making whiskey available, but it is cool that they’re able to have 18+ shows so kids from the nearby college can go. Definitely some college-looking folks in the audience. Chris’s band Temp Job closes out the night. There are horns and it’s punky and dancey, the overall vibe is kind of like Downtown Boys at a party. Their set is fun and people are into it. Afterwards, Chris invites us back to Urban Bar for a shot. Apparently Urban Bar is the last stop of the night for a lot of people around here. 2:30 is closing time in Knoxville, it’s probably 1:30 or 2, and there is a desperate energy in the air that feels different from Pilot Light. You can tell people are anxious about wringing the most fun out of their night in its waning hours. The true value of New York’s 4 AM closing time is not the ability to stay out until 4, it’s that the vibe can still be low key at 2 or 3. There is a stink of smoke. I will take a shot, though, if someone’s buying. I’m having a good time and want to hang. Chris gets us a round and cracks open a bottle of cheap champagne. Cheers.
The good time is pretty short-lived. At the table by the bar where I’m standing, I notice a guy talking to one of the singers from Chris’s band. It looks like she does not want to talk to him and he is not taking the hint. She is getting mad, her friend gets involved, and he starts to raise his voice. Now he’s full-on yelling at both of them, and what he’s yelling becomes increasingly loud and sexual and threatening. A couple other people at the table are gently trying to calm him down and get him to go away. Does anyone know this guy? He keeps yelling, now at everyone, about how the woman he was talking to needs some dick in her life. His riff on the necessity of dick for this woman and for women generally grows more animated and graphic with every iteration. Now some people are growing more forceful about telling him to go away. He’s yelling about six inches away from my ear, and at this point I’m starting to feel violated just listening to him. I give it a minute, I don’t want to be perceived as escalating the situation or trying to look tough in front of these people I don’t know. I am hoping someone else who knows this place will intervene or he will get bored and move on but neither appears to be happening. I turn to him and say hey, shut the fuck up. Everyone wants you to leave. Admittedly not the best way to phrase it, but true. He gets right in my grill and bellows something I will not repeat. He’s so close I can feel his breath, and he’s sufficiently taller than me that it’s more on my forehead than in my face. I am a bitch and do I want to go outside and fight him, is the gist of it. He’s not just drunk, something is wrong. He’s high or he has some kind of mental illness, not a normal one like all my friends have but one of the bad ones. I don’t have a protocol for this. I keep my hand on my glass in case I need to use it and silently return his gaze until he turns his attention elsewhere.
Back at the table, the guy I was talking to before assures me he would have had my back had it gone down, and that I could have kicked the guy’s ass anyway. The former might be true but I have serious doubts about the latter. I haven’t been in a physical fight since I was a kid, and I’m pretty small. How could this situation have been avoided? Was I supposed to just ignore him indefinitely? I really thought he’d just say something aggressive to save face and then go away. He could have really fucked me up. He is bigger than me and probably too drunk to feel pain, and if this is how he rolls in a social situation he must get in fights on the regular. I’m shaken and can’t easily segue back into just making conversation. I sit and gather myself, trying to stay near people.
Oh, and it’s not over, either. The guy starts talking to a guy next to me, about me, in such a way as to try and get me to step in and say something. This guy was trying to fight me, can you believe it, and things to that effect. I’m not taking the bait, so he starts tapping me insistently on the arm and addressing me directly with increasing urgency. He asks repeatedly if I want to fight him. I say no, I’m not trying to fight you. Nobody’s trying to fight anybody. Direct confrontation was the wrong move earlier so I am trying to use the most calm and even tone possible. He says he’s a man, he can apologize, and extends his hand, his voice still tight. Shaking this guy’s hand is just about the last thing in the world I want to do right now, but I swallow my pride and do it. I just need to get the fuck out of Knoxville in one piece. Unfortunately this peaceful interaction also gets him started talking to me again, and he is still on this tear about dick. Now he’s talking about how women can only get true pleasure from dick, and women need this whether they know it or not and whether they admit it or not. He’s getting more and more worked up, he’s getting off on talking like this. His language is growing increasingly rapey and he is now doing the classic hand gesture to mimic the insertion of a penis into a vagina. He is doing the gesture so hard I can hear the slapping of his hand-penis against his hand-vagina. If you wrote this guy as a character on SVU your script would be rejected as being too broad, too on the nose. I can’t believe I’m face to face with this fucking hideous caricature of a man, that he exists at all and that he has decided to direct his full attention towards me to boot. Other people were telling him to fuck off in as many words, why me? Does he think he senses weakness? The thought makes me furious. I am fully creeped out and still very much on my guard. He’s putting his hand on my shoulder a lot, as though he were a friend comforting me after a bad breakup instead of a stranger angrily talking himself off at me. He is getting way too fucking familiar and appears to have no intention of going away. I calmly say hey, don’t put your hands on me. That immediately sets him off again. Do I want to fight? Am I disrespecting him? Didn’t he say he was sorry? How come it was okay to put his hand on me a minute ago and it’s not okay now? Why am I disrespecting him? I tell him he’s disrespecting me by touching me at all and this conversation is over. I back away keeping my eye on him. As I had hoped, he goes and has what I imagine to be a similar conversation with someone else without skipping a beat. I move to another part of the bar where Chris and Becca are. That was close. Again.
Over the next few minutes I see him bounce around trying to engage different people. Now that the threat has passed I feel the pathos of the situation. He’s not there with anybody. Is this what his life is like, just going to one of the very few bars in town and getting fully obliterated and sexually menacing the closing time crowd? Is he just a normal guy during the day? The worst drunks I’ve known on their worst night don’t come off like this guy. He must be lonely. As the behaviorists at my job say, behavior is a form of communication. In his aggro and deeply misguided way he’s trying to connect with the people around him by getting a rise out of them. I keep an eye on him and make sure he leaves the bar before I do. Watching him go off into the night, I wonder if he’s going to go try and start shit with someone else, or actually hurt them. I think he’s all talk, but it’s not like I could do anything about it if I thought otherwise. All I’ve managed to do so far is maybe put myself in danger and almost certainly give him just what he wanted by engaging at all. I wonder what he’s thinking about. I’m thinking about how lucky I am that I didn’t get my ass kicked and that threats of violence are such a rare event for me generally. Time for bed.