Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm not exactly growing old gracefully, and if I for some reason skip the chance at admission, surely the hairline and the crow's-feet will scream it for me. But despite the fact that I'm set to be skewered from both ends by a gastroenterologist next week, unattractively rolled over a slow burning pit of medical humility, I still like to think, at least after my third drink, that my humdrum Orlando futility grows larger and more interesting every day, a bit like a snowball. OK, a snowball in hell.

I'm in good company, though. Fellow snowball (with sizable snowballs) Dolly Parton is here in hell tonight, set to offer up a heapin' helpin' of her codependent catalog to a sellout crowd at the House of Blues, and I've been rehearsing the lyrics to "9 to 5" since, well, 9.

"Is it 'let you dream just to watch them shatter?'" I ask Alan repeatedly, and he repeatedly ignores me. "Or is it 'let you dream just a walkin' shadow?'"

Anyway, I've got dreams they'll never take away, and one of them is not eating. Unfortunately, I've been swept up into a pre-concert dinner situation over at the HOB restaurant involving a large group of friends of friends, a couple of friends and Alan. The whole idea is that if you eat there first, you get to pass the line for the concert, a line that by this point stretches well around the building and seemingly into the giant Disney lake behind. The hostess, however, has informed us that there will be no passing of the line tonight, only eating, which makes me vomit in my mouth. So I swish a few catfish nuggets around my vodka teeth, say virtually nothing, and only occasionally stand up to run like a girl to the bathroom to gossip over the urinals with my favorite urinal gossip, Taylor.

"I hate everybody." I don't really.

"Me too." Nor does he. But pretending to hate people is way more fun than actually being with them.

Niceties eschewed, we're just about ready for the show of our lives (or something), falling into the standard robotic routine of friendly frisking and push-and-shoving that accompanies most affairs of the Buena Vista variety. Alan and I woo our way into the upstairs loge in a muted effort to avoid the hoi polloi of Dolly's gay and/or redneck demographic, which is funny because he's sorta both. And we wait for a giant curtain to drop. It does.

And the best I can say here is that Dolly looks amazing. Mostly in the way that she's always looked amazing: sort of a plastic surgery wax museum all unto herself, wigged and sequined to the furthest reaches of taste. Her dimples rest somewhere close to her ears, and her eyes never close. In effect, it's a difficult shade of perfection, and it makes me uncomfortable. Aging gracefully hurts.

"Wow!" I fake a Midwest orgasm. "This is just like Branson!"

But even with all the fakeness laid out there for all to see, there's a scandal rustling about. Two, even. First of all, Dolly's got a little ear-to-mouth microphone (like Madonna might) as well as standard stage-front microphones. At times, she's singing into both. Or, possibly, not singing at all. Fine. She's old, right?

More disturbing, though, is the presence of giant flat-screen teleprompters on both sides of the balconies. And not only are they scrolling the lyrics to all of the songs (some of which are covers from her new album, but many were written by her own nimble paw), but they also cover the in-between-song banter, such standard Dolly spontaneities as "It takes a lot of money to look this cheap" included. From where I sit, the actual show is on a surreal delay from the directives of the TV screens. My left eye is two two-steps ahead of my right, and I'm certain that I'm going to pass out. I've got gay-and/or-redneck vertigo!

Getting a firm grip on myself (heh), I revert into fantasy mode, imagining myself some sort of wicked sex-toy manipulator out to conquer the world with my latest model of fembot. My drink straw turns into a joystick, moving Dolly around the stage (the screens actually give me that information too, right down to "turn around here … work your way to the center of the stage"), and I'm finally having a good time. A good, evil time.

But not for long. Dolly, at some point in the middle of this, goes against my maniacal wishes, and indeed the maniacal wishes of all mankind. That's right, Dolly does the aging schtick.

"Some of us have gone from love-ins to Depends!" she squeaks, and reads.


"We've gone from bell-bottoms to big bottoms!"


"From dropping acid to antacid!"


"From sex drugs and rock & roll to not being able to have sex without drugs! Have you seen the price of Viagra?"

Does … not … compute. Thud. And just as I'm wiping myself up from the infernal stink of my pool of awful, Dolly goes and slips me up again. This time with menstrual fluid.

"Us women, we get a bad rap!" she squirts before launching into an ill-advised resuscitation of one of her worst throwaways ever, "PMS Blues."

Our waitress, and my ever-present memory of seventh-grade youth, Jamie, meanwhile is playfully making the moves on Alan, just like you might expect somebody to at a Dolly Parton show. And I don't even have the energy left to fight back with the choreographed chorus, "Better get your hands off my 'Potential New Boyfriend,'" mostly because he's neither potential nor new, but also because I'm drowning in fetid estrogen.

"Princess," she snides at me.

"That's me." It isn't.

When Dolly starts to close the spectacle with a cover of "Imagine," I'm already imagining the color of the inside of my coffin. If this is growing old gracefully, color me dead.


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