On a hot summer day just outside of Andalusia, AL, I rummaged through a trashcan until, triumphantly, I found a plastic sausage wrapper, its label dripping the gristly juice of various pig parts. Dog flies swarmed around my grinning face. Across the parking lot, my friend Jessica, with whom I was currently on a road trip to visit friends at Auburn for the weekend, peered into the dark windows of a factory. I yelled to her, “Found something with the name on it!” brandishing the wrapper.
We had interrupted our road trip because of a euphemism for my cock. On our way from the Florida panhandle to northern Alabama, Jessica and I had passed a building with a sign out front that read, “Snowden Sausage Company.” My name is Snowden.
Jessica ran across the parking lot to look at the sausage wrapper. Although I can no longer remember the label clearly, that road trip having taken place ten years ago, the company’s website leads me to believe the label may have been a picture of a elderly woman, gray hair tied behind her head, staring out from a background of knotty plank wood. The visage of “Granny Malena” adorns every package, these days at least, for all varieties of “Olde Tyme” smoked sausage. In spite of the decade that has passed since the road trip, I’m fairly certain, given the meat product’s figurative counterpart, the type we found that day was not baby links.
“Let me see! What does it say?” Jessica said before reading the wrapper—Snowden’s currently services Alabama, South Mississippi, North and Central Florida, and parts of Georgia—after which she said, “Services! Ha-ha. I love it!”
At the time I had only known Jessica for a month. She lived in the small resort town, a part of what’s called the Redneck Riviera by people who’ve never visited it, where I was working a summer job. I had recently graduated from high school and would soon start college up north. Until I met Jessica and her friends, my life had been plagued not just by virginity, but also by a complete lack of friends who were women.
The latter deficiency contributed to the former predicament. If I didn’t understand or appreciate the female mindset enough to be friends with a woman, how could I ever hope to cajole, beg, or delude one into sleeping with me? The same person who introduced me to Jessica also helped me solve half of that problem.
Kim and I met at the part of the resort town known to fellow young folk as “The Dildo,” a beach walkover so-named because of its resemblance to a toy sold by Good Vibrations. Less than five minutes after being introduced, I stood on a bench and, substantiating the personality traits that had kept me involuntarily celibate for the past nineteen years, recited to Kim my valedictorian speech. She asked how it was possible I could have memorized all that.
“Because I’ve got a mind,” I said, “like a steel . . . something.”
The next day Kim called to ask if I’d like to go out for martinis. “Sure,” I told her, adding that I preferred mine “straight-up, dry, with olives.” Consequently, a few hours later at a bar that did not card, I had the first martini of my life. Then a second. And another. And another. Then a seventh. For many years after that evening, I was known to Kim’s family as the guy who, mistaking the alcohol content of a martini as being equivalent to that of one beer, spent the last half of our night out paving the parking lot with vomit.
Throughout the rest of the summer, Kim, bless her heart, proved herself the forgiving sort, helping not only to increase my alcohol tolerance, but also to decrease my awkwardness with the opposite sex. Often she took on the role of wing woman. She talked me up when gossiping with girls in the bathroom, and she had my back during arguments with guys at the bar. Ever since that summer I have considered Kim my first female friend.
That is not to say I had never known girls before Kim who were ostensibly friends. All through my life up till that summer, I’d been on friendly terms with girls who lived down the street from my house, who sat next to me in class, or who I nervously asked to dance at parties, but the friendships I made that summer at the beach were the first not predicated on our parents belonging to the same country club and, more important to my teenage mind, untainted by the sexual pining and secret crushes attendant to puberty and its aftermath. Every one of the friends I made at the beach—Whitney and Kim and Brianne and Jill and Katherine—were the first I felt were earned rather than given.
In fact some of those were the people Jessica and I were going to see on our road trip. Nowadays I have trouble remembering exactly what happened that weekend we spent at Auburn. It might have been the time we entered a Fourth of July parade, dressing up as sunflowers to complete our “Walking on Sunshine” dance rendition, or it might have been the time I won the “Best Boxers” stripping contest, my prize a 100-dollar bar tab I used to buy a round for everyone there. That my memory of the trip is so hazy testifies to how much fun we had on it.
The ride home that weekend, though easier to remember now, was no less of a fun time. Even though we had meant to stop by the Snowden Sausage Company, Jessica and I, both nursing three days’ worth of hangover, didn’t notice when we passed it because we were lost in the meandering, elliptical talk of two people unencumbered by mutual romantic interest. What is friendship really but an absence of the need to impress one another? Somewhere near the border between Alabama and Florida, though, Jessica disrupted the nonchalance of our drive by screaming, “Oh my God, you have got to pull over!” I did as told without yet knowing why.
The roadside shop claimed on its sign to sell used goods. Inside the shop, where a hoary man greeted us with a tip of his cowboy hat, Jessica and I found a unique range of inventory: license plates from each of the contiguous states, stuffed squirrels, broken chandeliers, Dolly Parton paraphernalia signed by Dolly Parton, televisions, VCRs, antennas, and the entire filmography of Ray Stevens on videocassette. Whether or not the shop met our expectations should be obvious.
“‘Used goods’ for sale,” I said. “More like ‘used awesomes.’”
Jessica extended one arm directly in front of her torso while swinging the other wildly from side to side. “This is me playing the world’s largest violin for how much I love this place!”
Among the many lessons I was taught by those wing women so long ago, the one I learned that day at the store I consider the most important. I realized not only did I want to be around people who lived their lives in exclamation points but I also wanted to live my own life the same way. Months later that lesson would play a key role, arguably, in helping me to find someone who, thankfully, was generous enough to relieve my virginity. Living in the moment can sometimes allow a moment to happen.
At the roadside shop Jessica and I each got a decent haul. She bought a trucker hat with a picture of a naked man on it, beneath which appeared the order, “Party Nekkid!” and I bought a short-sleeve shirt for a gas-station attendant, its permanent nametag stating, “Don Johnson.” The best of all, however, was the belts.
What caught our attention at first was that they could be stenciled with words. Although most people would have their initials or names put on the belts, Jessica and I had other plans when talking to the man in the cowboy hat, part of whose job was to stamp letters with a hammer into the raw hide of the belts. We told him one word to print on each of them. With half a smile he asked, “Could you spell that please?” tugging at his gray sideburn.
“B-A-D,” I said, “A-S-S.”
Oftentimes these days I like to wear my badass belt on dates so that I can tell its origin story. Whenever I tell the story, though, I leave out the last part. The old man in the cowboy hat, while ringing up Jessica and me at the register, asked if we were a couple. At the same time, without any hesitation and without a shared glance, both of us said, “We’re just friends.”