Southern Fried Divorceby Judy Conner, Cynthia Darlow
“If your dog doesn't like this book, he has no sense of humor."Roy Blount, Jr., author ofRoy Blount's Book of Southern Humor and If Only You Knew How Much I Smell You
The hilarious account of one woman's marriage and divorceBig Easy- style
Set against the colorful backdrop of New Orleans, SOUTHERN FRIED DIVORCE/i>/i>/i>… See more details below
“If your dog doesn't like this book, he has no sense of humor."Roy Blount, Jr., author ofRoy Blount's Book of Southern Humor and If Only You Knew How Much I Smell You
The hilarious account of one woman's marriage and divorceBig Easy- style
Set against the colorful backdrop of New Orleans, SOUTHERN FRIED DIVORCE raucously recounts the author's divorce from “That X”a classic bad boyand the unpredictable roles he plays in her life afterward. The book opens with his showing up on her doorstep, in mid-Spring, covered in red and green ribbon, smelling of Jim Beam, and bearing a belated Christmas gifta home security package in the form of a .38 revolver and a brown puppy. After wondering what kind of ex-husband gives his wife a gun, she gives the puppy back and the adventures with that ex-husband and the brown dog, who are soon inseparable, begin.
The hilarious vignettes that ensue include: the rules to Redneck Roulette; post-divorce sex (“Smurfing”); a divorce settlement that includes a bar tab for life; how to teach a dog to drive a Cadillac; getting mugged with her own cutlery; wearing a keg into a football game; instructions on how to cook the best Christmas roast south of the Mason-Dixon line and other fine Southern recipes; and the antics of her infamous ex and the brown dogtwo cohorts mythic and so inseparable they performed naked synchronized swimming together at the 1984 World's Fair. Conner weaves together a one-of-a-kind love story that exposes the humility of all human relationships, and shows that the end of marriage is not the end of love.
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Read an Excerpt
NOT LONG AFTER I BECAME HIS EX-WIFE, that ex-husband brought me a .38 blue steel revolver and a brown fuzzy puppy. His unannounced arrival at my new bachelorette maisonette was not a complete surprise. He’d always been fond of barging in where not invited. So I didn’t really expect him to stand on ceremony and wait for an invitation that might be delayed indefinitely.
I barely heard the doorbell over the sound of the Carrollton Avenue streetcar as it passed, headed for the nearby car barn to be watered and fed. I opened the door of my shotgun double apartment to greet my former mate, beaming with goodwill and Jim Beam. He was festooned with red and green ribbon and carrying a couple of intriguing items. Belated Christmas offerings, I guessed, since we were pretty deep into spring.
“Surprise!” he bellowed. “And seasonable greetings! Here, I’ve brought you a new home security package. You can learn how to shoot this gun and this puppy’ll grow up to be a fine watchdog. Lookit how he’s watching you right now.”
“Well, how thoughtful,” I murmured.
After his fifteen years of quasi-husbanding, I guess he was finding it hard to quit at least musing on my welfare. Crime in New Orleans at the time was common as mildew. Just part of the landscape. One of the downsides to the endearing openness of the locals is that they might open your door as readily as they open their own. What’s yours is theirs. They just don’t have well- defined boundaries.
I toyed with the five bullets that accompanied the gun and wondered what kind of fool gives his ex-wife a gun. Especially one who sometimes has the disposition of a wolverine. And why’d he get only five bullets for a six-shooter? Perhaps for a game of Redneck Roulette? It’s similar to Russian roulette, just a whole lot more daring. Your average redneck will rarely resist a dare. That probably helps account for their historically out-of-proportion representation in the wartime military. They’ve always figured prominently in the body counts too.
For Russian roulette, they use one bullet and five empty chambers—because of the Russian economy. Shortages of everything but vodka, so I hear. The redneck version is just the reverse— five bullets, one empty chamber. Much more efficient. Anyhow, a gun was not something I’d have chosen for myself. However, I didn’t already have one and this one appeared to be a nice, sturdy model and not at all cheap. It’s the thought that counts.
“What made you think to get me a dog?” I asked him.
Now that ex-husband got all fired up. “It was just pitiful,” he said. “I was over by Franky and Johnny’s picking up some hot crawfish when I saw a bunch of kids there on Tchoupitoulas Street. When I drove closer, I saw that they had a hold of this puppy’s arms and legs. They were teasing him and pulling on him. I just whipped my car off to the side and jumped out and starting hollering and slinging kids. I snatched this puppy and took off. As I was driving along, of course, I thought of you and how you just love puppies.”
It was, of course, true that I love puppies. And pie. And Mother and the flag. And assorted strays of all kinds.
My glance shifted from the puppy to the broad, usually guileless face of that ex-husband. The innocent look was gone, replaced by that other one. He lied about stuff that didn’t matter at all as regularly as he did about stuff to save his hide. He was a sport-liar and a real enthusiast of writer Dan Jenkins’ “Are you going to believe me or your lyin’ eyes?” And to a lesser degree, “That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!”
“What’s the real deal on the dog?” I snapped.
“Well, I was over at Joey K’s eating a shrimp po’boy with Clay. You know Clay is the guy who bought Joey K’s from Joey K.”
“Yes, I know that, I go there all the time. What does that have to do with this dog?” I wondered if very many people lie about their lunch.
“Joey K was in there too, eating a po’boy with Clay. And having a beer in one of those big ole heavy iced-tea glasses Clay uses. Joey K’s brown dog, Betty, was there, and her puppies—just the right size for giving away. As you can see,” he answered.
I could see a light-brown fuzz ball about the size of a cantaloupe with dark eyes and nose and eyebrows. Mighty cute. How many ugly puppies have you seen? I’m pretty sure there are way more ugly babies. If this one took after his mother, Betty, he’d grow up to be a medium-sized, medium-haired, medium-eared, medium-brown, medium-hound–type dog. Generic dog. But the eyebrows were a redeeming factor. I purely love a dog with eyebrows.
So, I bedded the critter down in the laundry room at the very back of the shotgun—as far from the bedrooms as possible. I was hoping that the pup would let me and my new housemate get some sleep.
I had lately opened my heart and my hearth to that ex-husband’s nephew. I could not do otherwise. Whenever I got ready to fly that ex-husband’s coop, that nephew said, “You’re not going off and leaving me here by myself with my crazy uncle.” I didn’t mind. I was used to the teenager. He’d been with us for several years—ever since his mother had run off and joined the circus or the itinerant preachers or something. I forget. But the nephew was pretty different from both his mother and his uncle, who acted like they’d been raised by wild dogs. He was just as sweet and smart and talented as could be. He showed a very early flair for the dramatic. During a visit to our house, he came into my bedroom as I was blabbing away on the phone. Three-year- olds can’t stand for you to get on the phone or in the bathtub. I was barely aware of him there at the foot of the bed. I focused a bit and saw that he was gesturing mightily with three fingers of his right hand and madly raising his baby eyebrows up and down. “Three?” I mouthed at him. He nodded vigorously and began wildly bobbing and weaving. Then he raised his left hand behind him, lunged toward me flapping his right foot on the floor, and pointed his right hand in a brilliant feint à la Errol Flynn. Abruptly, he stopped and again was stabbing the air with the three fingers. I got it, I got it! He wanted one of the Three Musketeer candy bars I’d squirreled away in the kitchen. Hiding things up high never worked; he could climb anything. But he never thought to stick his grimy paw into the cannister of dried red beans sitting innocently on the counter. I ended my phone call and gave his charade my full attention. He got a hearty “Bravo” and the candy bar.
Really, the only way he was like his family was that he was mighty messy. All them people were like pigs. We had an agreement whereby he’d keep his mess hemmed up in his room. So the common areas looked pretty good.
We had plenty of stuff because I had taken most of the furniture and every last knickknack. I think I left that ex-husband the king-sized bed, the TV, the refrigerator, and an easy chair. To his credit, he had insisted that I take everything.
I wasn’t too sure about this new puppy business. My confidence in my housebreaking abilities had been badly shaken by the failure of my marriage. I had put just about every scrap of energy I could muster into getting that husband to behave—with virtually no effect. Impervious. Based on my recent track record, I guessed I’d very shortly be knee-deep in puppy poop. Although I guess if I wanted to, I could claim success at keeping that ex-husband from shitting on the floor. Of course, in a couple of weeks, my laundry room looked like the launching area for a school paper drive—lots and lots of nice clean newspaper. Not so the floor. That puppy had carefully, precisely shat betwixt the sheets of paper. I had scooped about four or five hundred piles of puppy poop off the floor and was past ready to quit.
I rang up that ex-husband and I said, “I love my new gun, but I’m fixing to take this brown dog to the pound.”
Naturally, he came thundering over to intervene on the dog’s behalf and call me names. “This is just plain heartless! You are the meanest woman in the world,” he declared. “Not to mention ungrateful. This was a Christmas present!”
“Oh, it was not either. You just wanted to show off. And since you’re so crazy about being the big hero, you can just rescue this!”
“I don’t have time for a puppy.”
“I don’t either, but I do have time to take him to the ASPCA!”
“Well, dammit!” he countered brilliantly.
“Yeah, dammit all,” I declared. “You’ve got yourself a new brown dog!”
* * *
In fact, I had really done that ex-husband a favor. His nightclub business left his days pretty flexible. He could really use somebody to hang with since he was even harder on buddies than he was on wives. Just ask the one who had two loads of river sand show up on his front lawn. Just ask the one who got his picture taken—nekkid and tied to a bedstead by some slut in that ex- husband’s “office.” Just ask any one of a dozen or so who happened to be standing next to him when he took a notion to taunt bikers, seamen, drug dealers, or other assorted thugs. And just ask the one who got tricked into carrying that ex-husband’s bag through customs when they returned from a trip to Thailand. Yep, ask the guy how he felt when the inspector popped it open and found nothing but pills, tablets, and capsules—thousands of them, just loose in there, full to the brim. It looked like somebody’d spent their entire vacation filling a suitcase with M&M’s.
A puppy was just the kind of companion that ex-husband needed. The two became immediately inseparable. They’d set out together just about every day. They’d go to the hardware store and to the bank and to his nightclub business to harass the employees. He was in charge of the human resources part of the business. He also booked the nightly live music and took care of the endless bunch of crap that came with owning a club. Or any small business, for that matter. The advertising and marketing were my areas of expertise. After we split up, we continued the business partnership as before, except that I also started booking the music. I didn’t want to but it was the only way I could get that ex-husband to readily agree to my full financial support. The real story was that he was damn sick and tired of booking music. He was always angling to do less of anything that did not directly pertain to plumbing or chasing nasty women. That man loved a broken or plugged-up toilet better than anything—even the nasty women. We had once talked about his becoming a plumber. My position was one of neutrality, but I had pointed out that it would be a shame for him to drop out of law school to become a plumber unless he was really committed to this vocation.
As it turned out, he was not really committed to pipes and drains and hair balls and such. It was just that he had discovered that he was uncommitted to and bored blind by the law. The study of it, that is. He had always had an aversion to obeying it. I believe he may still hold the record for “drunk and disorderlies” in his home area—the northwest section of the District of Columbia. One fine day in New Orleans, he was yet again not in class. He wandered into a neighborhood bar on Lowerline Street. It was called the University Inn because it was near Tulane University. He fell in love with the place. Pretty soon he had convinced the owner, Bob, that a partner would be just the thing. Poor Bob. As soon as he could thereafter, he bought Bob out. Thus began his professional career in adult recreation. We both assumed that his extensive experience as an amateur would stand him in good stead.
We offered only draft beer, peanuts, and hilarity for a clientele consisting mostly of the neighborhood rabble plus Tulane students and faculty. But for such a hole-in-the-wall, it did well. And it was big fun. It was mighty convenient for that ex-husband. He had found an occupation where he could pretty much be a shiftless ne’er-do-well right there on the job.
Just about the time his lease on the space was running out, he had saved up some money. With the help of one of his faithful customers, Matt Gregory, he was able to buy a building and open a new and improved fun spot.
Matt was the first native New Orleanian who was willing to be our friend. And it took us two years to get him. As a matter of fact, I was wondering if we’d ever get one. It was so weird because I’d been pretty popular in college and that ex-husband had always had a bunch of friends, albethey motley. We even discussed the possibility that we might, in fact, be a pair of losers. What if, during those years of prancing around all biggety-speckle, thinking we were mighty cute and pretty cool, we were actually kinda creepy? But, no, that couldn’t be it.
We finally did figure out why it was so hard to make friends among the natives. It’s because most of the people who are born here never leave and if they do they spend the rest of their lives trying to get back. And most of ’em are Catholic, tending to larger families. So everyone you meet has friends going back to kindergarten plus cousins ahoy. In fact, right from the start, children are encouraged to be best friends with their cousins. Isn’t that strange? It’s like they’re all in the Mafia or something. Even when they give big parties, their guest lists are just about filled up with family. These folks do not get to do hardly anything without the whole damn family. They just plain don’t have time in their lives for anybody new. You’ve just got to be real patient till they can fit you in. It is true, though, that once they do make a place for you in their lives, it’s pretty hard to get yourself kicked out.
For instance—Matt Gregory—guess what we did to him? I have to say “we” because this was one of the few times where I was involved in some nefarious activity with that ex-husband. At the time, Matt was married to his first wife. He was also carrying on an extramarital affair of which we did not approve. Naturally, I didn’t approve, but I thought it pretty fascinating that that ex- husband didn’t either. Even I knew this was a really black pot calling names. Fairness notwithstanding, that ex-husband was extremely vocal in his criticism of Matt and his “Nymphet,” as we had christened the hapless honey. He even barred the twosome from the tavern. Although Matt was welcomed solo. There came the time that we knew in advance that Matt would be out of town. He was going to New York for a week on business. He had been foolish enough to divulge that the “Nymphet” would be meeting him there. This plan really annoyed that ex-husband and he ranted about it quite a bit. We kicked it around and finally, between us, developed a plan. We wrote a press release for a newspaper column dedicated to the doings of locals. We sent it in and it was printed.
Attorney Matt Gregory will be jetting to New York for the KNOBGLOBBEN SUGAR FESTIVAL and will be enjoying same for the better part of next week.
Oh, by the way, “Sugar” was the nymphet’s name.
That ex-husband was kind enough to warn him that something might be in the paper sometime. Poor Matt had to get up at dawn: five-thirty every day for weeks to snag the paper before his wife got up.
Now, even after that, Matt helped us purchase the property that would house the next bigger and better nightclub.
The new establishment was located on Oak Street, in the heart of the Carrollton area. The Mardi Gras parade put on by the Krewe of Carrollton used to roll on Oak Street. The route was changed because one year there was a real high wind that blew a krewe member off the float when it was on an overpass. It was very bad. The new plan excluded Oak Street. I think that marked the beginning of the street’s eventual decline as a center of commerce.
The brown dog and that ex-husband spent so much time together that after a while there came to be a family resemblance between them. I once remarked to that ex-husband that the brown dog looked quite a bit like his cousin—one of the ones who’d run off to join the circus or pick fruit or something. I forget. She had a long, thin brown face and brown eyes. Just like the brown dog. That ex-husband’s face was brown year round also and he had the brown eyes. But he had a very big face. Taking up more than fifty percent of his head and kind of squarish. So he and the dog didn’t look so much alike except through the eyes. That ex-husband replied snappishly that the dog was still a teenager and would surely outgrow the resemblance to the cousin.
Very big faces run in my family too. Along with some pretty big butts. Big tits do not run in my family. However, I was blessed as a mutant in that department. I can assure you that big tits never go out of style. If we could just get it where big butts are popular, life would be perfect.
I guess the brown dog had been with that ex-husband about a year when I began the custom of the Christmas roast. I fixed it the same way every year and the brown dog liked it very, very much. It went thusly:
Take a 5- or 6-pound roast—I would choose a sirloin tip, but you could use a cheaper cut if you’re the stingy type. In my own case, it’s pretty much “Nothin’s too good for this dog.”
Preheat oven to 500° F—yep, that’s 500°. Hot. Mix together 4 teaspoons of salt, 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper, 2 teaspoons of coarse ground black pepper. Smear this mixture all over the roast. Cook uncovered in a Dutch oven or big iron skillet for 7 minutes per pound. Turn the oven off and DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR.
Do not open the door right from the start and not for at least an hour and a half after you turn the oven off. You will be tempted to peep in and out of there, but DON’T DO IT—it will mess it up if you do. If you cannot follow these directions, cook your roast some other way. When the time is up, remove and let stand for 10 minutes.
For people: slice and serve. For brown dogs: cut off the spicy crust. This roast will be rare. You can cook longer per pound if your dog prefers medium or well-done.
When I fix this roast for people, I also make these killer mashed potatoes—even though there will not be a whole lot of gravy.
White or red taters will do. Peel, slice, cover with water in pretty heavy pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer till done. Drain in colander and dump taters back in the pot. Add lots of butter, some salt, and white pepper to taste. Do not substitute black pepper—it’s not the same. Pour in a dab of whipping cream and mash it all together. Then whisk, adding cream as needed, till you get the texture you like. I like some lumps myself. Good as ice cream.
The brown dog would come to sleep over at my house so he’d have time to eat all of the roast. It was hard, but he persevered. I’d serve him the first portion for early dinner, around five in the afternoon. He’d feed intermittently throughout the evening and finish up about 2 AM. Then he would go fast asleep with all four legs straight up in the air, which would soon be thick with brown-dog gas. Sometimes he’d fart so loud that he’d wake himself up. Then he would look around suspiciously, growling softly for good measure. He’d give a big yawn—tasting it—smack, smack, smack, and nod back off.
The reason I cooked a whole roast for the brown dog was, even though I’d given him to that ex- husband, I wanted the dog to like me best. It was a common desire of mine. I might not be the only one, but I would, by God, be number one.
I am pleased to report that my Christmas roast was his favorite present, and the brown dog looked forward to the consumption with glee. You could readily tell this because the only time he broke out of a shuffle was from the car to my front door for that Christmas roast. He generally liked to move as slowly as possible to annoy that ex-husband. The brown dog would usually stall around in the car, yawning and stretching, until he’d been invited to disembark at least three or four times. And even then he’d move like a thousand-year-old dog. Well, on Christmas Roast Night, he’d bound from that car before it was stopped good, and his nails on the sidewalk would be shootin’ sparks. You’re probably wondering how he knew Roast Night from any other. Well, he was always a great one for skulking around and eavesdropping. Sometimes I would manage to surprise him. I’d phone up that ex-husband and tell him, “Now don’t say anything, just listen. I don’t want the brown dog to know, so bring him over for the roast two days before Christmas.”
One time that ex-husband brought along a friend, besides the brown dog, for the roast. It was this guy from Ireland who, by the way, was on a list of the ten most eligible bachelors in all of Ireland. Since he had this actual credential, I was, at first, pleased when he pronounced me a winsome lass, even though I was pretty sure that the top scorer would be the toothsome wench. This was a most charming Irishman, but his general attitude regarding the consumption of spirits and well, work, would clearly make him ineligible for any list of marriageable guys that I would compile. I think that country might have had more problems than bad food, bad teeth, and a history of crop failure. I think it is so great that the Irish have turned their country around so nicely.
Mr. Ireland was not my only foreign encounter that day. Earlier, I’d been to a holiday reception at the International Trade Mart. I was greeted by a very charming Latin gentleman. He smiled, bowed slightly over my hand, and said, “Feliz Navidad.” I replied happily, “So nice to meet you, Feliz.” After meeting half a dozen or so fun-seekers, all named Feliz, I figured it out: “Feliz” is Spanish for “Dude.”
Anyway, that ex-husband and his Irish buddy decided to stay for the consumption. They were shortly joined by that ex-husband’s nephew, who loved celebrations of all kinds ever since his mother had run off with the circus or the tinkers. I forget which. Warm greetings were exchanged all around and I handed out bourbons, which is what we drank in the winter. Everyone gathered at my big round kitchen table to be near the ice and await the appearance of the roast. I had comfy chairs and lots and lots of red do-dads in my kitchen, so it was hard to keep folks out of there. In no time, we were all aglow from the bourbon and that really hot oven.
“We had a r-r-really interrrresting time, last night,” the Irishman offered in his Irish whiskey burr- voice.
“Oh, yeah,” I mumbled, as I glared at that ex-husband, since they’d had that nephew out with them.
“Yeah,” the nephew chimed in excitedly. “I got to play piano with Jimmy Buffet. He came in the club last night and we all went out later. We stopped by the bar at the Pontchartrain Hotel and they let us noodle around on
the piano. It was great!” This was exciting stuff for that nephew, and for us all, really. We’d always been Parrotheads. Partly because Fingers Taylor, Buffet’s best harp player, is from Mississippi, like me, and an old friend. Of course, Buffet’s from Hattiesburg originally. That Mississippi deal is always there.
A week or so later, the story of the Nephew/Buffet piano duet was written up in the Times- Picayune newspaper. And neither me nor that ex-husband was responsible for it being in the paper. A lot of folks saw it and it was big fun.
I provided another round of bourbons, and the three guys began to feel peckish just as the roast had ripened. They were clamoring for shares in the brown dog’s roast and snatching the slices as quickly as they slid from my knife. The brown dog’s eyes were darting back and forth nervously from the roast to their mouths. He had yet to receive the first taste. What started as a whine of entreaty became snarls of indignation. That dog knew what was fair, and this was not it. He maneuvered himself between them and the roast and would not give way. They knew they’d been bested, and were obliged to settle for some impromptu nabs. Historically speaking, Nabs were little packs of crackers put out by Nabisco and sold in little grocery stores and service stations throughout the rural South. But if it’s me talking, then nabs are anything eaten between meals. In this case it happened to be some honey-baked ham, ready-made from a ham store. I had, by the way, invested more time in acquiring that ham than I spend with some members of my family. During the holidays, those ham stores are like a box full of monkeys. They have to have some ham cops on duty to keep people from maiming each other trying to get to the head of the line, which snakes around through those brass poles and velvet ropes. Like at the bank, for crying out loud. “I’d like to withdraw a five- to seven-pound spiral-sliced ham, please ma’m.”
I served the brown dog a very large helping of Christmas roast, with the spicy crust cut off. The guys eagerly snarfed the brown dog’s leavings. I took my place at the table to enjoy the Ezra Brooks fifteen-year-old. This was some of the best sipping whiskey there ever was, but don’t go looking for it. They quit making it. Come December, I remember it fondly as I do the look on that little hound face every year when the brown dog would first lay eyes on his Christmas roast.
Meet the Author
Judy Conner began reading her "Brown Dog Tales," the basis for this book, at the Sunday Salons in New Orleans, and several were featured in the Faulkner society Double Dealer. She is the older sister of Jill Conner Browne, author of the best-selling Sweet Potato Queen series. Raised in Jackson, Mississippi, she now lives in New Orleans and is also the author of SOUTHERN FRIED DIVORCE - THE AFTER PARTY, a sequel to this book.
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