This way instead of that way

Shoe shopping with a rock star

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If I'd known I'd spend the day shoe shopping with Kate Pierson of the B-52's, I would have whitened my teeth or something. Or at the very least I would have worn something other than what happened to stick to me from the floor when I rolled out of bed that morning. But Grant must know not to give me notice to prepare for these things, probably because he knows I'd never be prepared for these things. He knows if I had any time at all to think about it, I'd probably just give up and flop on the sofa like an ocean slug, wailing, "I can't meet her this way!"

So when Grant called me out of the blue to come meet her, they were already sitting down to lunch. "Bitch, come right now," he insisted, and still it took me a hundred years to get there. That restaurant was practically in my backyard, but I took what I thought was a shortcut — going this way instead of that way — and by the time I finally found the place again, I think there were distant relatives way off in my line of vision, waving me into the light.

"Hollis, Kate. Kate, Hollis," Grant said unceremoniously as I took my seat beside her. It was her, all right. She still has hair the color of flames emerging from a burning chemical plant. She still lights up the room like an ore of plutonium.

She and Grant met one day when he'd looked up from serving drinks at the Local and saw her standing there with Fred Schneider. The two had actually sought Grant out, proving that some tracks are just meant to cross. They'd heard that Grant had a house full of modern furniture he was hawking, and they wanted a private viewing. The next day, Fred left with a few lamps, but Kate came away with more than that, and she and Grant have been friends ever since.

Lary was there at lunch, and I must say he was very subdued that day for being Lary. He actually sat there with his hands folded in his lap like two sleeping kittens. These are the same hands he once used to climb a big religious billboard to cut off the head of Christ and replace it with a giant sign that read, "Be back in five minutes." Perhaps this is the way he behaves when he's in the presence of greatness, though, because there Kate Pierson was right across the table from him, eating sushi and acting like she had any business being flesh-and-blood like the rest of us. I myself kept my gushing to a minimum.

"Great to meet you," I told her. "Your music changed my life," and that was that. No need to go into detail. No need to tell her how, as a kid thousands of miles away from here, I traditionally went through each day weighted with a universe of sorrow, most of it imagined but some of it real, like the loss of my drunk for a dad, for one, who'd just died in an efficiency flat across from the airport alone and with no idea how much he'd be missed. No need to tell her how I woke up every morning back then burdened with this and other insurmountable sorrows and how I'd just lay there in bed, my arms outstretched, and let my brain become my enemy. Then the day came when I heard "Quiche Lorraine" for the first time on the radio, and that is the day joy began to work its way back into my brain. That is the day I took my first step this way instead of that way.

Grant had promised to squire Kate around town before taking her back to her hotel, which is a promise I don't know how he expected to keep, because Grant has a maddening habit of showing up for his bartending shift even in the face of hanging out with rock stars for the day, and I know for a fact that he had to be at his post hosing down drunks at the Local that afternoon. But then he said, right there in the parking lot, "Kate, Hollis is gonna give you a lift," and he handed her over to me like a precious gift, and right then I knew he knew. "This is Kate goddamn Pierson of the B-fucking-52's," his eyes smiled to me as he helped me shovel all the empty coffee cups, crayons and half-masticated chicken nuggets out of my front seat to make room for her, "and you are goddamn welcome."

And that is how I got a day with Kate Pierson, which we spent shoe-shopping like I have any business at all buying shoes with Kate Pierson of the B-fucking-52's. Sometimes I think how simple it would have been for that day not to have happened at all, how any one of the steps I've taken since way back when I lay like a defeated carcass in the twin bed of my freshman dorm could have taken me that way instead of this one. But other times I just think some tracks are simply meant to cross; they are set in place by some cosmic train conductor who is telling us there is no that way. There is only this one, and you are goddamn welcome.

Hollis Gillespie authored two top-selling memoirs and founded the Shocking Real-Life Writing Academy (www.shockingreallife.com).

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