As with anything, it’s not the grape-picking that’s interesting. It’s all that surrounds it.
Austin and I spent last Monday practically in silence. We were tired and it was hot. You wouldn’t think of New Zealand as hot but let me tell you–it isn’t the temperature of the air. Here, it’s a sun factor, the added temperature of the sunlight. There’s no ozone in this part of the world and so when the sun blazes down it feels fierce unlike any sun I’ve ever felt. It’s pure, amped-up heat; the opposite of a wind chill. It’s why their lemons, grapefruits and oranges are perennial here, plentiful even in winter. It’s so strong that even horses wear coats to protect their skin. It burns right through their coat. They even have special sun visors for their noses so they don’t get blistered.
However, on days when the breeze is constant, the sun isn’t as terrifying. We tend to talk more. Talk, snip, talk, snip. We spend about half of our time talking to and about the grapes. Sometimes we name them. We’ve taken to calling the dense, tightly intertwined grapes “a bunch of bitches.” Usually they are Chardonnay, the ones that congregate between the crisscrossed vines–the place we dubbed as the “Crisscross Mother Load.” It’s the point where at least four large vines, stemming from two diverse trunks cross together and are braided upward through the wires. It’s a mess. Underneath all those leaves that you have to pluck or snip away, you have vines and wires. And, in case I haven’t mentioned, you can’t see a thing. You have no idea where to snip the grapes from the vine because you can’t see where they’re attached. These are the so-called bunches of bitches.
When we aren’t talking about grapes, we’re talking about everything. We talk about subjects that skirt around forgiveness and love. Sometimes we talk about food. We talk a lot about wine. We even talk about Jesus.
Sometimes Austin tells me secrets about people he knows back home.
It’s because of Austin’s stories that I’ve been able to catch up on gay culture in America. I’ve learned expressions like “fag hags,” or “fruit flies,” as Austin prefers to call them. (He says it’s less derogatory.) I’ve learned about Oklahoma City’s best gayborhood as well as the city’s drag queen subculture. I’ve even learned the clever, hilarious names of some of them, like the famous Willam or Sharon Needles. It’s slightly shocking to find out I was so out of the loop.
Thinking of drag queens made me think of this old lady in my neighborhood. She looks just like the love child of Dustin Hoffman’s Tootsie and Robin William’s Mrs. Doubtfire. This got me giggling and I told Austin.
Tall, masculine old ladies got us talking about Dorothy from the The Golden Girls. Like every kid, my sister Jess and I always played the game where you have to choose which one you want to be. Don’t ask me how it happened but she always got to be the cool, pretty one and I always got sucker-punched into being the chubby one or the less fortunate-looking one. Remember Jan? From the Brady Bunch? (Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!) Well she was Marsha and I was Jan. When we applied this game to Wilson Philips of course we all wanted to be China, the pretty blonde. But our neighbor friend Whitney was blonde, so, by default, she always got to be China. Jess, with her red hair, by default, got to be the red-headed one while I always got stuck being Carnie, the unfit tubster of the group. I used to console myself by trying to say that Carnie had the best voice of all of them.
Austin and I discussed this stupid little game then applied it to The Golden Girls.
“Which one are you?” I asked.
“Blanche,” he said, inspecting his bunch of grapes for rot. “Definitely Blanche.”
“Of COURSE you’re Blanche! I don’t know why I bothered asking.” I said. “Remember that tall one? Was her name Dorothy?”
“Bea Arthur!” he exclaimed.
Obviously Austin knew her real name.
“I was always a little scared of her, to tell you the truth. I was convinced she was a man.”
Didn’t everyone think that for awhile? Her deep voice was mesmerizing. A little haunting even.
“Well, which one are you?” he asked.
I pondered this. “I don’t want to be Rose,” I said. “She’s so ditzy and annoying.”
“No, you’re not ditzy. You have to be the quick-witted one and that’s Dorothy.”
“You mean the one who looks like a man?” I asked. “She’s such a party pooper, though.” This was usually why I opted out of playing this game.
“Well you have two choices. You can be Dorothy or you can be the old one.”
“The mother!? The midget with glasses and white fluffy hair?!” I laughed. “Wasn’t that Dorothy’s mother?”
“Yes, Bea Arthur’s character’s mom.” he said.
I couldn’t for the life of me remember her name. All I could remember was that they called her “Ma.”
Reluctantly, I opted for Dorothy.
After all this talk about the Golden Girls, I came home and got on YouTube to look them up to refresh my memory. It was shocking to hear that theme song again, “Thank you for being a friend,” after all these years and what was even more shocking was how much younger they were than I thought! They aren’t OLD on that show! Blanche walks around in her neglige looking like a sexy young tart. Either they’ve gotten younger or I’ve aged. Or at least my memory has.
The next thing I looked up on YouTube was the Scissor Sister’s song, “Let’s Have a Kiki,” because I hadn’t heard it and it impressed me that Austin knew every single word to the first verse. He then informed me that Willam made up his (her?) own version of this song and called it, “Let’s Have a Kaikai.” If you’ve never seen either video, watch the Scissor Sister’s first, then watch Willam. It is just so unfair how men as women sometimes look better than women as women. This, of course, is a whole other topic but I can’t help but feel slightly resentful towards drag queens. They (almost) have it all. They’re beautiful and they’re smart. They can do anything. I mean, they dress up like women, wearing make-up and high heels and they’re successful at it. How brilliant is that? Speaking of brilliant… All that controversy about Chic-Fil-A? Well, instead of boycotting the fast-food chain, these whipper-snapper drag queens endorsed them, which was probably the best vindication any man, woman or tranny could think of. They made a music video about it, using the tune of Wilson Philips “Hold On.”
I am speechless. All I can say is, oh, how times have changed. The Golden Girls have gotten younger, Carnie had lap-band surgery and is now skinny (or was, last time I checked) and transvestites/transsexuals are endorsing Christian-run fast food chains.
Such are the realizations of grape-picking.
Oh and sister, if you’re read this, do me a favor. Work up the nerve to be slightly scandalized and watch this video. Which one of these so-called girls with fancy names would you like to be? Let’s have a kiki and we’ll talk it over and fight it out. Just like old times.
(Afterwards, if you need something wholesome and would like to remember tamer times, well, this should do the trick.)
P.S. Austin likes to quote one of his favorite drag queens: “Flats are for quitters.” If that’s true, I suppose I’m right in there with the best of them. The Carla Bruni crowd.