It started in Arkansas. Mr. Carolina and the Okie and I had spent the night in in my van, in a Wal-Mart parking lot. In the morning when we tried to go about our business, we found that one of the tires was flat. We then had to go about the business of getting the tire fixed. Mr. Carolina borrowed an air compressor (a testament to Southern hospitality and Mr. Carolina’s powers of persuasion) and pumped up the tire enough to drive the van to the automotive repair entrance at the back of the store.
Somewhere between eating our McDonald’s sausage burrito breakfast and the actual moving of the van, I walked across the parking lot to the Dollar Tree. I went in and bought a fat black marker for sign-making, then stopped at the Dollar Tree dumpster to get a big piece of cardboard upon which to use the marker. On the ground near the dumpster, I found the head of a Barbie doll.
Of course, the doll whose head I had acquired had not been named Barbie. Real, true, name-brand Barbies are not sold at Dollar Tree. The head I had acquired had once belonged to a nameless “fashion doll.” What happened to this “fashion doll’s” body, we will never know.
As I walked up to the boys, I hollered in an exaggerated Southern drawl, Look what Santa left! as I waved around the cardboard in one hand and the doll head in the other. Then I commenced to poke a hole in the top of the not-a-Barbie’s head so I could impale her on the van’s radio antenna.
Once the doll’s head was on the antenna, Mr. Carolina started laughing. Oh, Blaize, he said, thank you. That’s what I hoped you were going to do with her.
The doll head stayed on the antenna as I traveled through the South. It was in Asheville, NC when the Okie and I delivered Mr. Carolina to his brother. It was at the truck stop east of Asheville where I dropped the Okie off to hitchhike to his further adventures. It went all the way to Austin, TX where I landed in the guestroom of my friend Lou and her new husband.
My first night in Austin, Lou gave me a pair of cowgirl boots I loved (RIP cheap, non-repairable cowgirls boots I wore to shreds) and invited me to a roller derby party.
I’d just spent two months in a warm fuzzy hug of the Grateful Dead, the kindness of strangers, and sweet-young-man friends who recognized and appreciated my inner goodness. My blissed-out hippy self was not quite prepared for the hard-drinking, rather jaded, rough playing, urban roller derby women I met at the party. It’s safe to say those women were not quite prepared for me handing out quartz crystals I’d dug from the Arkansas mud and trying to have real conversations with folks.
Two things at the party got my attention, the first thing being a van parked in the backyard and decked out with colored lights and cushions so people could hang out inside. I could barely wrap my head around the fact that to these house-dwellers, hanging out in a van at a party was somehow exotic. I was asking Lou perplexed questions about the van, trying to understand, when she gently reminded me that people who don’t live in vans might think it exciting to sit in one at a party.
The second thing that caught my attention was a woman wearing a hat in which the legs of Barbie dolls (real, true, hard-plastic, name-brand Barbie dolls) had been used to fashion a Mohawk. Lou told me the woman had fashioned the Mohawk on the hat herself, and I got really excited, wondering if she still had the Barbie heads lying around.
I was by no means calm when I approached the Barbie-leg-Mohawk woman. I was babbling, it’s true. I told her I loved the hat, then said, I need the heads. She continued to look at me like and who the fuck are you? until I managed to explain live in my van, Barbie head impaled on antenna, need more to fill entire antenna. I think I got her with impaled.
A couple of days later when I went to see Lou play in a roller derby exhibition bout, a grocery store bag filled with Barbie heads was delivered to me. It didn’t take me long to make holes in all of the heads and add them to the antenna lineup.
For the next couple of months, people in Austin noticed those Barbie heads. While stopped at traffic lights, I saw people taking photos of the heads. More than once I saw people stop on the quiet street in front of Lou’s house to hop out of their cars and take photos of the heads. I suppose those heads unexpectedly jammed onto the antenna were an answer to the plea to Keep Austin Weird.
I loved the way those Barbie heads caught people’s attention, and I loved them because the one had so amused Mr. Carolina. But when I hit the elk and left my van behind, I left the heads too. It seemed silly to pack them in my backpack and tote them around as I hitchhiked, but mostly it seemed silly to try to prolong an era I knew had come to an end.
Photo of the Barbie heads on my van’s antenna taken by me. Special thanks to RenRen who helped me get the photo off my phone and into this post.