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Dirt Bitch — a Short (But All-2-True) Tale …

Lisa Barr: Hey Girlfriends and now GUYrillas (yes, lotsa dudes are reading this blog — who knew?)  There are those days that I’m going to sneak in a short story (the Other Side of my writing) — particularly on a Holiday Weekend, a day when I’m OVER-carpooled and my kids’ demands OVER-ride my writing life, after a night of not enough sleep, or just ‘cuz … Thought you’d enjoy this one.

By the way: No fiction here, this tale is all-2-true.  

Happy Holiday! See ya back at the GIRLilla Ranch on Tuesday … 


Her name was, no joke, Autumn Summers, and she lived her life as though it were the dead of winter. She was a tall, twentysomething mangy blonde with good possibly fake boobs, a raunchy sense of humor, the kind of girl who laughed too loudly at her own jokes, and when I met her, she was leaning against some snaggletoothed guy twice her age, and falling off a bar-stool.

Autumn Summers, with a name that evoked high hopes and celebrity, was a 24-year-old drunk, and I was at the time a fortysomething-year-old suburban Mom, vacationing in Denver, enjoying our family’s first ski trip.

That particular night, it was snowing hard, dinnertime, the kids were wiped out, glued to the television after their first full day on the slopes. Everybody was hungry, and no one felt like moving. (The Bears game was on, which meant that my husband was also among the couch potatoes.) I got into my long johns, ski jacket, hat and boots, and ran out of our lodge to get takeout for the family.

The wind and snow felt surprisingly invigorating against my face. I’m a warm weather person and truthfully, I fought against going skiing for Winter Break, and lost. What other idiots leave sub-zero Chicago temperatures for two feet of snow and even icier conditions in Denver? I was (still am) a warm weather girl. I’m more the Antigua, Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia, type. I’m the come-back-with-the-killer-tan girl. But after a day on the slopes, I was sold. How could I resist the sugar-coated mountains, lush snow-tipped evergreens, the hot cocoa and fries (both of which I downed guilt-free), and state-of-the-art gear? Not to mention that I was matching from head to toe in black and white North Face. (Though apparently matching is a sin in the ski world, among real skiers. It makes you obvious, like Nouveau Riche versus Old Money.) Still. I felt not cold, but cool. Somebody take a picture.

So there I was trudging down a windy snow-covered path, picking up Mexican for my three daughters and my husband, and I felt good, my body worked-out and my skin misty fresh and shiny. As I searched for the restaurant amid the dim visibility and harsh conditions, I felt like a lioness heading into the woods to take care of my cubs. In the distance, I saw the red, green and yellow flashing neon lights. Bingo.

As I slowly entered the cantina, I noticed that the restaurant was empty except for one family sitting in the corner, chowing down. They all wore flannel, had bad haircuts, and seemed to be pierced everywhere, even the kids. I hoped the food didn’t suck. I asked the lone waitress where I might find the takeout. I was pointed in the direction of the bar at the far side of the restaurant, which was sectioned off.

The bar was dark and U-shaped, decorated with cheapo Christmas ornaments, lots of mini flying Santas, and more flashing lights, most of them not working. On one end of the bar I saw a pathetic tray of holiday cookies. Seated around the bar were nearly a dozen men of various ages whose faces were wind-whipped and whiskey soured. I found my gaze gravitating across the bar, where a young blonde, whom I would soon learn was named Autumn, was spinning around on a stool.

What is that young woman doing in a shit-hole like this, I wondered. I had to know.

I walked around the bar and sat down in the empty stool next to her and waited for my food, which according to the bartender, wasn’t quite ready and could she get me a drink while I waited?

The bar drunks raised their glasses in my direction, and I thought hell no. Water would be great, I told the bartender. And then Autumn leaned away from the seedy-looking guy next to her, and put her liquor-drenched lips close to my ear.

“You know what I fucking hate?” she sputtered.  I looked at her, and noticed that she had a huge black brocade tattoo coming out of her T-shirt sleeve. It looked like a Rorschach test. This was a tough girl, the kind that probably hated a lot of things. I just knew she was going to say she hated people whose clothes matched.

In contrast, to my brand new white and black trimmed jacket and black with white snowflake patterned hat, Autumn was wearing a crumpled green T-shirt, baggy camouflaged pants, a worn-in gangsta hat, the kind of girl who wouldn’t be caught dead matching. I just knew what was about to fly out of her mouth.

“What I hate,” she began with a beer glass slam, “are people who don’t tip when they do takeout.”

I heaved a sigh of relief. So my outfit was not something that Autumn fucking hates. And I’m a good tipper, but truthfully, many times I’d forget to tip when I picked up takeout. I looked at her with interest. I could learn something here.

“Really? Tip takeout? Good to know,” I said, and then the bartender brought me my water. But it wasn’t water. It was a Black Cherry soda that I didn’t order. In fact, I don’t drink soda at all. But when in Rome … with a bunch of drunks … you drink.

“Yeah, I just fuckin’ hate it,” Autumn confirmed.

“I take it you waitress?” I asked.

“No, I bartend when I’m not skiing.”

Surprise, surprise. “So how much are you supposed to tip?”

“Ten percent is good.” She paused long enough to give me the once-over. “You look nice. What’s your name?” she asked, and before I could responds she said, “I’m Autumn, Autumn Summers. Great fucking name, right.”

“I’m a writer,” I said, deciding that was enough information.  “Autumn Summers is a great name. A fabulous name, actually.”

She turned her chair in my direction, so that she was now staring directly at my profile. “I bet you want to know about me, right?”

“What do you want to tell me?” I asked, kind of digging this scene in a way that I’ve entered Narnia or some other place that I completely don’t belong, but decide to stay anyway out of warped curiosity. I take a quick bar scan. Each person was drinking and looking at me. The winter white ski bunny who was matchy-matchy drinking Black Cherry soda, who had just entered the Dark Side and didn’t seem to be leaving any time soon. (I was, even though it seemed like they had to fly to Mexico to get my food.)

“Did you know …” Autumn Summers’ face was now uncomfortably close to mine now. Was she hitting on me? Her breath smelled of gin crossed with cigarettes crossed with holiday sugar cookies. “The thing is, I’m actually leaving this place and moving to Hollywood.” Her blue eyes flashed. “I’m going to be an actress.”

Oh great, just what Hollywood is waiting for.

“An actress? What made you decide that?” I asked.

She rolled up her short sleeve and I could now make out her tattoo clearly. It was one of those ornate loopy designs that covered her entire shoulder and ended with a skeleton head that disguised itself inside of a flower.

“You know I went to college. I was supposed to become someone. My mom … five years dry in AA. And guess who had to save her?”

“You?” I threw out my best shot.

She slapped me hard on the back. “Yes, me! I saved my mother’s life, and kind of had to stop my own. Do you know what I mean?”

Did I know what she meant? I was no stranger to family dysfunction. I knew exactly what she meant, and at that moment, I started to like/feel sorry for/connect to Autumn Summers. I swiveled my chair toward her.

“Miss,” the bartender shouted at me over the music, “your food is coming soon!”

Oh yeah, the food. My family. I forgot about them.

“No worries,” I shouted back. “And then what happened, Autumn?”

“Well I moved here to Denver, and just said fuck it. Now I do extreme sports, I mean extreme everything. Boards, cycles, dirt. I ride big time whenever, wherever.”

“Oh yeah, she rides,” Snaggletooth chimed in, and I wanted to vomit, picturing young Autumn Summers, drunk and naked beneath his top-to-bottom tattooed smelly body. And that crooked chipped tooth touching her mouth, and other places. I had the urge to throw a blanket over her shoulders.

Autumn, who was trying to convey confidence by dispensing Hollywood inside information, talk of her professional headshots and her natural abilities, seemed lost. But she certainly didn’t belong in this bar, especially next to that guy. With a good shower, some cute clothes, a little lipstick, she would be quite pretty.

….And that thing in me, that thing that has mothered nearly everyone in my life, began to tug, and then roar. She needed something. She needed guidance. I heaved a deep breath. This stranger needed ME.

I glanced at my watch. I had five minutes tops, I estimated, to leave Autumn Summers with something she could hang onto (if only she remembered it in the morning).

“Autumn, what else do you do besides this? Besides the drinking and shooting the shit, and probably ending up with that guy next to you?” I whispered the last part, afraid to stir up Snaggletooth and have to listen to what he fucking hates.

She smiled, and her teeth were quite nice and straight despite the yellow veneer, most likely stains from smoking. “You will probably think this is totally stupid,” she said softly, as if she’d been told time and again that she was a fool. “But, I want to start a company that caters specifically to women riders.”

As she spoke, Autumn suddenly did not look so drunk and lost. Her blue eyes that seemed so vacant, so street, only moments before, had come to life, sparking with a hint of sober intelligence. My guess is that no one talks to her or actually cares about her ideas. They either want to screw her or screw her up.

“Not stupid at all. Please tell me,” I said. From the corner of my eye I saw the bartender packing up the food and searching around for paper plates and plastic ware to stick inside my to-go bags.

“Everyone designs only baby pink or light blue padded protective gear for women who are into extreme sports, especially bikers, as if we are little fragile girls on training wheels.” She paused, to make sure I understood that she was not one of those girls, would never be one of those prissy girls. “My company would provide padded suits for women only in red and black – power colors  — and do you know what I want to call my company?” She turned away to swig down her beer for emphasis. “Dirt Bitch. How friggin’ awesome is that? Dirt Bitch! Real padding with real colors designed for real women riders. Girls with attitude. Girls who take risks. Red and black. Do you love it? Do you?”

I looked at her with sincerity.  She had something there. “You know what, I do love it. It’s good, it’s catchy, and it fits the product. I agree, how can anyone possibly go extreme in pink and powder blue?”

By the looks of me, she probably pegged me as one of those girls. Why should I care? But I did. Why did I suddenly have the urge to tell her that I, too, had a wild streak in my twenties? That I rode a moped everywhere (a red one, by the way). But I said nothing. Autumn didn’t need another Autumn. She needed the me that I am now.

“I love this woman!” she announced to everyone at the bar. “Do you know what I love?” she screamed out again. No one bothered to look up from his drink. “This woman. You’re a mom right?”

I nodded. “Yes, three daughters. Best part of my life.”

“I can totally tell. Those girls are going to grow up fantastic. They have you. They fuckin’ have you for a mother.” She looked away, a bit teary-eyed, and I felt for her. Lost, lonely, on her own, searching. I knew her type.

I once was like you, Autumn Summers.

Autumn put her long bony arm around me. Under normal circumstances, I would have flinched, pulled back, but this time I didn’t. “Let me ask you something,” she began, but was interrupted by the bartender who put the takeout on the bar in front of me. Her nametag read Sally. She looked worn and tired, and seemed apologetic.

“Autumn, leave her alone, okay.” She glanced at me. “I’m so sorry.”

I flicked my wrist dismissively, as if I do this every day or for that matter, ever. “It’s really okay, Sally. I can handle it. We’re actually having a nice talk.”

Snaggletooth shouted out, “Take Sally’s advice and leave now, woman, or Autumn will talk your ear off, and I mean you’ll be begging to leave.”

“You’ll pay for that, Chad.” Autumn thrust her breasts toward him and then turned away quickly. It was some kind of drunken code, meaning you’re not getting any later.

He was jealous, I could tell, not used to having his girl talking to someone other than him. If only my husband could see me now, I thought. Sitting here, buzzing with the barflies. I wondered if he and the girls had set the table. Probably not.

Autumn’s voice lowered, as if trying to hide her deepest secret from Chad and the other regulars.

“Like I said, I’m going to Hollywood in July. No one knows, but me, and now you. I’m going to give myself a chance. I’m going to go audition and give acting a shot. I mean I don’t want silicone and fake nails, if you know what I mean, but I also don’t want any regrets. I’ll give myself two months there, and if I don’t make it …” she patted the bar stool. “I will still have my spot back here.”

She waited for me to say something, to give her my approval. The food was getting cold. My daughters were probably starving. Think. Think. Give this girl something – something that her own alcoholic mother probably never could give her even on sober day. And then it came to me, as quickly as the guy across the bar was downing his shot of Jack Daniels.

I knew I had to speak her language for my advice to really sink in. “You don’t know me from shit, Autumn, right?”

She nodded, waiting, her focus beginning to waver.

“Look in my eyes.” I did the two-finger span over my nose.  “I never lie. I tell the truth – just ask my family – even if it hurts. You don’t want to go to Hollywood in the shape you’re in.  They’ll eat you alive – not even for lunch, but for snack. Do you understand me? Are you listening?”

She reminded me of my girls now, the way she was looking at me, when they were waiting for a pearl of wisdom that I was prepping to drop into their laps, and they had the choice to take it or to leave it. Autumn, I could tell, was taking it, wanting it.

I placed my hand on her strong but stooped shoulder. “Tell me, what do you love more than anything? What are you good at, Autumn?”

She just shrugged and shook her head. In her mind, she wasn’t good at anything. So I had to remind her.

“Remember? You are an athlete – not the trained variety – but the wild kind. The kind who is not afraid to take any risk, especially out there.” I pointed to the window in the far corner of the room. In it, you could see the charcoal outline of the mountains, like an Ansel Adams painting. “Your body is your trump card. You push yourself to the extreme, to those places most women don’t go, are afraid to go.”

She was listening now. She was with me. I could tell by the way she leaned forward, and away from the bar.

“Don’t stand in line for a single audition,” I continued, thinking she will surely end up a stripper or be forced to go porn. “Go to Hollywood and become a stunt woman. You’re pretty, tall, blonde, and they will grab you. You are a dead ringer for at least five actresses that I can think of off the top of my head. They may audition and get movie parts, but you have something that they don’t have.”  I waited for this to sink in.

Her eyes widened with understanding. “I Don’t Give A Shit.”

“Exactly!” I shouted, determined to finish Autumn’s sentence for her. “You don’t give a shit about getting hurt, because if you fall you will pick yourself up. You’re not a crybaby.” I was now dancing on my maternal soapbox. “You don’t wear pink and blue. Those actresses wear those colors. You are red and black girl. Don’t forget it. Wear it. Own it.”

Snaggletooth was now playing with her bra strap, trying to get her attention, pulling it back like a slingshot, but she ignored him.

“Autumn, do as I say, and you won’t be back on that bar stool. You’ll call your own shots. You will have work, and make money, I promise you. You will live the life you love. You’ll feel, for the first time, good about yourself. ”

Everything in Autumn Summer’s pale face lit up. “You are so right. Why didn’t I ever think about that? Me, a stuntwoman. It’s perfect.”

I snapped my fingers. “Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. That’s it. You could be her twin.” I pointed to the backwash of beer in front of her. “The reason you didn’t think about that is because you’re not thinking. You’re drinking. Clean yourself up, Autumn.”

“I can stop anytime I want, you know,” she said defiantly. I knew she probably said that to everyone who warned her that she was going to be just like her mother.

“You need help,” I said firmly. “Stop the drinking first, and then go to Hollywood. Can you do that, Autumn?”

“I’m Dirt Bitch,” she said, pounding her chest like King Kong. “I can do anything.”

I laughed, and then stood. It was time to go. My husband probably sent out the dogs by now. Autumn stood too and was grabbing her jacket. “Can I come with you, please? I want to see your kids, and tell them how lucky they are.”

For a second I considered it, then I shook my head no. That’s all my girls needed was to meet Dirt Bitch. I could practically hear every question coming out of their curious mouths. They would want tattoos, an eyebrow loop, a nose ring, and a belly ring, just like Autumn. They would want to ride a dirt bike, just like Autumn. I could just hear her telling them all about Dirt Bitch, a word that they would be sent to their rooms for using.

I placed my hand over hers. My nails were chipped from the skiing; hers were bitten down to the quick.  “I’m sorry but we’re going to have to say our goodbyes right here. We are lucky to have met each other. Good luck, Autumn Summers. Believe in yourself.”

I tipped Sally the bartender ten percent on top of the bill, then waved goodbye to the band of sorry-looking bar dregs, picked up my two bags of Mexican food, and walked slowly out of the cantina.

“Bye, Hot Mama,” I heard Autumn scream out from the bar. “Don’t forget to check the movie credits for my name.”

I smiled and then felt a tinge sad. I pictured her toasting her new career as she downed the rest of her beer, and most likely ordered another.

“Bye, Dirt Bitch,” I whispered hopefully, knowing that I would check the credits of every action movie my husband made me watch as a “tradeoff” for one of my Chick Flicks.

Turning back briefly, I could see Autumn’s silhouette reflected in the bar window. Her hand was pressed against the glass. She was watching me as I stepped onto the cantina’s powdery path into the bitter cold, a white matchy-matchy shadow against the dark uncertainty of night.


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