What housesitting is really like in Charlotte plus Carol the Cat

carol housesitting article

My latest story in CharlotteFive is about housesitting in Charlotte — and it has a love story. An east meets west, Romeo and Juliet encounter with Carol.

Carol is a cat.

I never thought I’d love cats again since my beloved childhood one, Dolly, passed away several years ago. But Carol taught me you can be feline (I’m sorry) the love again even when you think it’s all gone.

Hope you enjoy the torrid love story that is Carol and Joanne. Caranne. Jarol. Whatever. I’ll think of something.

I Went to Wildacres and Came Back with (Most of) a Book

Wildacres Cabin

Being one with nature is not on my list of top skills, but I applied for the Wildacres Writing Residency Program in January anyway. Desperate for a quiet space to finish my book, the concept of sitting in a cabin with no wifi sounded adventurous, a mini Wild meets Eat Pray Love except with a swarthy protagonist. There I’d be in an oversized gown and a nutty necklace and I’d write this genius piece of work.

I got the yes in mid-March. I bought that oversized gown. I got the necklace with the stone meant to inspire creativity from a street merchant in Asheville. I was ready. At least I thought I was ready.

This is my tale from August 31-September 6, including talks around the lunch/dinner table with my two fellow residents, encaustic artist Bridget Benton and herbalist Maria Narf.  

Day 1: Drove around and up the mountain like it was a vanilla swirl ice cream cone. Sat in a rocking chair at the lodge. It was supposed to be a tranquil moment. The four cleaning ladies of Wildacres rambling in and out of the lodge with paper towels and Windex and cigarettes had other plans. I was treated to an hour-long reimagining of Steel Magnolias if the cast had a graphic yet juvenile level of sexual knowledge punctuated by passing gas:

“Where is your picture going?”

“On a sex site.”

(Other woman looks puzzled.)

“It’s on this Skype site where guys are touching themselves.”

(Other woman still looks puzzled.)

Then one woman burped, knowing I was sitting on the balcony. She waved me off to the other ladies and said, “Oh she heard it, but she just laughed.” This liberated another woman to audibly fart. Twice.  “I like her in more of a grab-your-boobs way instead of a lesbian way,” one explained over cigarettes. Not about me, I hope.

Meals were served in the main dining hall, and there was always a fresh salad bar. Dinner was baked chicken, chopped potatoes in a cream sauce and broccoli in a mustard sauce I didn’t understand but utterly enjoyed.

Day 2: COMPLETE AND UTTER MENTAL BREAKDOWN. I’d get sporadic texts but wouldn’t be able to answer them in the cabin, forced to wait to be in the lodge or dining hall. That’s when I trudged the 1/3 of a mile to the mountain view I had so enjoyed yesterday. The mountain was giving me side eye. “Hey there, you’re an imposter. You don’t deserve to be here.”

"Nature is beautiful, but also disgusting." #wildacres

A video posted by @lookitsjoanne on

I sobbed until my face look like a tropical blowfish, a term in Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed that would calm me down over the week. Back after an hour of wailing, I called Fitz on the cabin’s hard phone, my only reliable connection to the world. “Everything is hard work,” I grunted. “Getting to meals here is work, relationships are work.” And that’s when it happened. That’s when I started typing the main theme of the book and couldn’t stop.

Oh yes, and more mental breakdown:

"My shoes are full of nature." #wildacres

A video posted by @lookitsjoanne on

Day 3: The dizziness I’d felt since I got to the mountains disappeared. Did my 20-minute mountain sitting exercise and my first thought was, “I really want to go to the beach.” Two trumpeters in one of the music rooms on the grounds played The Way You Look Tonight,” which made me miss Lara. Made Bridget and Maria laugh with bits from a delightfully violent essay I’d written last night. Lunch was a lush chicken and rice casserole.

Watching shadows on the mountains. #wildacres

A photo posted by @lookitsjoanne on

Day 4: My 20-minute sitting meditation became a standing meditation with fidgeting. I felt too fat to sit still. But I still got my mountain thoughts as I stood there doing leg lifts: patches of shade climbed and fell over select parts on mountain trees that were green except for a few orange specs cutting out early for fall. I wondered if someone on the shaded side of the mountain thought it was a cloudy day while the other person on the bright side thought it was a sunny day.

Maria was not at lunch today, which was fried fish and potato cheese casserole. We don’t know where she was. No one was worried about it whereas my family would have sent out the Mossad if I didn’t show up for a lunch in the woods. Dinner will be Thanksgiving, and I need to save Bridget a slice of pumpkin pie because she has to go to an art opening in Asheville. She said, “Thanks for covering my sweet tooth,” as someone might say, “Thanks for covering my ass.”

Day 5: I’ve written and taken out so many words in my book they have become floaters in my eyes. Ate Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch and had a Shabbat dinner presented by Temple Beth El. Brisket with rice and mixed dried fruits and asparagus. Dessert was peach cobbler. Bridget was ecstatic to get her pumpkin pie and she ate it like someone might eat a slice of pizza.

Maria taught me about herbs. She said some people see marijuana as making them freer of inhibition, when in essence it is limiting them by turning off external distractions. She sees in eight dimensions and only two with pot, so she doesn’t like it, wigs her out. Apparently peyote can kill you and it’s 24 hours of hallucinations and 24 hour recovery time. Yeah, I’m not trying that shit.

Day 6: Wrote over 2,000 words this morning in an essay titled, Dr. Spataro. The Temple Beth El crew was there at lunch and they sang songs, one of them named “Ding a ling.” “We’re the real ding-a-lings,” I joked to Maria and Bridget. Lunch was cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, salad and onion rings.

I went to my usual mountain spot and accidentally attended a morning service for Temple Beth El. The rabbi asked everyone to pray for someone who was in need of healing. One woman said her husband got laid off from his job in March, and he was then diagnosed with shingles in his ear. “They say it’s temporary,” she said. “But we don’t know how long temporary is.” She said he did a phone interview while having the shingles, which impairs his speech. It made my complaints about not getting Facebook on a mountain seem pretty damn stupid.

There was another lady who said, “I pray for my husband who has inoperable lung cancer, and he’s exercising and eating right. He wants to watch his grandkids grow up, but there is nothing more that the doctors can do for him.”

The rabbi stood up and then we all sang songs. As the mountain had absorbed my suffering on Day 1 of this retreat, I felt it absorb all of theirs.

That night, I shaved my legs. I shaved other places. I was ready to come home.

Day 7: Today I have to start thinking about my wallet again. Came back a better person. A person others feel comfortable to fart and burp in front of. A person who wrote about 50,000 words. A person who wrote a book that reflects her soul, and, well, still needs a little editing.

Live performance is a drag

joanne pk

This past Saturday afternoon brought me to Sleepy Poet Antique Mall in Charlotte. Not only did I have a bloodlust for vintage 40s hats, but a legitimate reason to be shopping there at all: local environmental activist Ahmer Inam and I are are going to be presenting at Pecha Kucha Night Charlotte, Vol. 13 — and I needed a suit.

Do not ask me why. That part is a secret.

Pecha Kucha is a presentation style with 20 slides clocking in at 6 minutes and 40 seconds total. Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham architecture invented the method as a way to keep otherwise lengthy presentations concise and fast-moving. The first Pecha Kucha night was held in Tokyo in February 2003.

I will be spending the next week and a half working on my ensemble, the script, and eating guacamole with corn chips to keep me fueled. Hopefully I’ll get to see your fabulous face on April 30 — or just your face. Either way, I’d be happy to see you there.

Until then, keep looking out windows. You might see something you like.

Nacho, Nacho Man

Yesterday, I told you the top three places to get nachos in Charlotte. The only ingredients I had for nachos this morning were an unopened bag of blue corn Tostitos, which I must save for a party this weekend, and a small block of Parmigiano Reggiano.

What I had ready to go were wigs and costumes. So I danced with that bag of chips to the tune of “Macho Man.” I called it “Nacho, Nacho Man.” It’s part of my weekly #telecommvamping series on Instagram.

Tell me what you think about this series or today’s video in the comments section.

Hope you’re having a swell Wednesday!

Nacho, nacho man. No, really.

A video posted by @lookitsjoanne on

Search for the Best Nachos in the Queen City

Finally, I get to write about my first true love: nachos. CharlotteFive is featuring my take the three best places to get your queso fix. There’s even a recipe at the end of it, which my bestie/nachos-partner-in-crime Fitz created when we were stuck inside on a rainy day.

Did I pick your favorite place for nachos? Comment below and tell me your pick!

Let’s Share a (Hershey) Kiss

Pillow Talk Cover 2015 Soup

**UPDATE: Second Chance Soup has been postponed until March due to incremental weather. Stay tuned!**

Last June, I presented my web series Pillow Talk with Joanne to a live studio audience at Queen City Soup, presented by Project Art Aid. I came thisclose to winning their grant — and it was fantastic to share the experience with international drag queen Roxy C. Moorecox and transgender advocate Paige Dula.

This Friday, I’m coming back to the stage. And I’m better than ever.

Pillow Talk with Joanne is getting a second chance at a fabulous grant. And I don’t want to go to bed without you! I’ll be coming to The McColl Center for the Second Chance Queen City Soup Valentine’s Soiree. You’ll get to jump into the sack with me and we’ll share a (Hershey) kiss or two or five. Your sweet nothings will be doing something: Greenlighting Season 3 of the show.

Tickets are going fast, so I hope to see you there. 

If you’re looking for a preview to Friday, here’s a teaser from last year.


Pillow Talk with Kay Hagan?

 kay hagan collage

This weekend, I soiree’d at the Equality NC Gala in Greensboro, North Carolina. I arrived in my long velor gown with fake fur cuffs. AND fake fur scarf. Hello, Rita Hayworth.

That’s where I got to invite soon-to-be former Senator Kay Hagan onto Pillow Talk with Joanne. 

Hagan ran a tight race against resident D-bag Thom Tillis this year. He won the election against Hagan by 1.7 percent. Now there she was, less than a month later, schmoozing in the Empire Ball Room before the Gala’s cocktail hour. She was wearing a navy dress with a ruffled skirt. I got in the unofficial line to chat with her, looking around as if I wasn’t in line. Being casual. Then I congratulated her on running her campaign. She told me it’s a shame the Koch Brothers bought the election. I shrugged. I was hoping we would trash Tillis and perhaps laugh over a glass of wine, but I guess she had the more dignified response.

“What are you going to do now?” I asked.

“I don’t know yet,” she said.

“I have an idea for you,” I said, as if I was suggesting she use this time to try a new hobby, like Thai Chi. I told her about how I interview people in bed. She laughed and looked at her husband with a mixture of, “Can you believe that?” and “Is this woman a nutter?” I told her current Charlotte mayoral candidate Jennifer Roberts was on my first episode. A credibility booster.

“I don’t think I’ll be doing it anytime soon,” she said, giving my card to her husband.

“Think about it,” I replied, as if  she was saying a soft no to a car purchase. clay aiken“You’ve got time. Give me a call.”

Word got around that I had asked Hagan to be on the show. Then as the game of telephone tends to break down, people started asking me if I had invited Hagan into bed with me.

Kay, if you’re reading this, you are welcome on the show anytime. Fans of Kay, if you think she should be on the show, tell her! Maybe she’ll listen to you.

GOSSIP ALERT: Oh yeah, and I met Clay Aiken and we fell in love. He shook hands with the counter protesters outside the Empire Ball Room. He went back out into the cold to do that! I’m a total Claymate.


Still Praying the Gay Away?

hey hater bye hater final image

My friend Charles Easley wrote about the viral video that made me both snort laugh and shake my head this morning. It stars a gay man who was “saved” by the Holy Spirit from his man-loving ways — but obviously not from his “paisley Liberace jacket,” as Easley describes. Or muster-hued frilly tie and matching pocket square.

Each line of this man’s testimony needs to be turned into individual logo T-shirts:

“I’m not gay no more. I am delivered. I don’t like mens no more. I said I like women. Women, women, women! I said women! I’m not gay. I would not date a man. I would not carry a purse. I would not put on makeup. I will love a women.”

I like women too, sir. Because I’m a lesbian.

The newly saved man solidified his woman-loving ways with a dance right out of Paris is Burning, the iconic film about the drag ball scene in the 1980s. He was the Pepper LaBeija of his going-in-instead-of-coming-out party. Then a bunch of mostly men from the audience came up to put their hands on him and dance close together. There’s nothing more heterosexual than a man dancing cheek to cheek with other men.

I’ve had my experiences with bigots hiding behind their religion — I was riding on my Pillow Talk with Joanne float when I passed two protesters holding up signs filled with hate speech. One was an old man who started grinding his teeth and looked ready to spat on me if I had been close enough to him. He kept shaking his head and muttering “shit” under his breath. He was so mad at someone he didn’t even know that he was seething. Seething! Then a young man with a lush head of dark hair pointed at me and said, “Repent, you whore!” I shouted at him that I loved him. Every time he said something disgusting as I passed him, I told him I loved him. He finally got confused and said, “Yes, but…” See, already made a new fan.

LGBT people should not have to chose between their church and sexuality. That’s why I love seeing resources like gaychurch.org that provide a comprehensive directory of LGBT-affirming churches. Plus, there’s a whole section on how to reconcile your faith and sexuality — Calling The Rainbow Nation Home by Reverend Elaine Sundby is a solid book noted on this page.

The full video is below for you to enjoy. Happy Tuesday.

ELECTION DAY EDITION: Free Pizza with a Future Mayor

Election day means it’s time to find your polling place — here’s one for Mecklenburg County and a saucily-named one for the ENTIRE United States.  Do your research and build your own ballot guide before hitting the polls. If you don’t, you’ll look dumb like me five years ago.

You see, current Charlotte mayoral candidate and Pillow Talk with Joanne guest Jennifer Roberts once meant only one thing to me: free pizza. Because I was an idiot and also hungry.

When I first saw Jennifer in the Green, a park in uptown Charlotte, I had no idea she was the chair of the Mecklenburg County Commission — again, because I was an idiot and also hungry. Tall and slim and assured-looking, she was the definition of an upstanding person. It was clear she was someone who didn’t say things like, “Oh, I’ll do that tomorrow,” like I did. Plus she was wearing an ironed pantsuit and surrounded by cheerful middle-schoolers speaking French. She was a walking infomerical for a wholesome life.

I, on the other hand, was a mess. Lunch was my time to take off the mask of being a responsible, underpaid paralegal. And boy did I go for it. Sensible, worn flats were discarded on the concrete ground. I could not form full sentences. If a passer-by had complimented my cardigan, I would have simply grunted. For one hour a day, I allowed myself to be a dried husk of a woman. To stop nodding my head at my senior partner as he gave his just desserts about the Accounting department, as if we were two girlfriends at a sleepover.

But on this day, Jennifer would not let me let myself go.

Jennifer walked away from the middle-schoolers, who were now digging through a stack of Fuel pizza boxes set on a wooden bench. They were taking out cheese and pepperoni and veggie slices. The dented, soggy tuna sandwich I packed for myself at 6:30 this morning looked even sadder in my hand. Jennifer stood over me like a sun god, her hair flecked with gold. Mine was flecked with cookie crumbs. I could never be this woman who was talking to me about foreign exchange students, even though I hadn’t asked about it.

“You know it’s great when we can get the community together,” she said, gesturing towards the students knee deep in marinara sauce.

I could have responded in any number of intelligent ways. Tell me more about the greenways in Charlotte. What is the future of public transportation in Charlotte?

Nope. This was the froth that issued from my mouth.

“Can I have a slice of that pizza?”

Jennifer’s smile faded.

Being the dutiful public servant I had no idea she was, she still brought me a slice on a paper plate with a napkin tucked under it. I deserved none of her kindness that day.

A few years later, I would make up for my bad behavior. I introduced myself — as if it was the first time — at a pre-Democratic National Convention 2012 luncheon and told her I wanted to write about her for Creative Loafing. At the time, she had broken her leg doing something sporty. Maybe skiing. I’d like to think she had fought a wild grizzly bear and won, but she loved the environment too much to get into a senseless brawl with wildlife.

I covered her congressional campaign that year. She called my articles about her run for office thoughtful. Yes, thoughtful. Then Jennifer was my first guest on Pillow Talk in January 2014. She put up with me dressing her in a captain’s hat. She talked about the environment and – in a scene I had to cut for time –her love of Swedish mystery novels.

I’d love to grab a slice with Jennifer, when she has time. Until then, I know she’d want you to vote. And to get informed so you’re not a sad, pizza-horny fool languishing on her lunch break.

Until next week, watch Jennifer talk about that grizzly bear fight! OK, not exactly! Follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

About the Author: Joanne Spataro is the editor and writer of #PillowTalkShow blog. She has been featured in The AdvocateThe Huffington PostThe Charlotte Observer and Creative Loafing.

We Laughed. We Cried. We Met Hillary Clinton.

ben joanne selfieOne of the biggest Pillow Talk fans is my dear friend Ben Church. We met as teenagers at Central Piedmont Community College so we could get high school and college credit on our transcripts. As seemingly the only two queer, homeschooled students on Levine Campus, there was an instant connection — our shadows cast a rainbow on the school’s brick face. We met in our first class around 8:15am, 45 minutes early because, well, that’s what good homeschoolers do: Not realize non-homeschooled students are never on time for class, let alone in their seats before the teacher is there.

The two of us were the happy face and sad face theatrical masks: he turned on the waterworks over wonderful and sad things while I was the buoyant Liza Minnelli of the Student Government Association. He used to punctuate a sentence with, “Kisses, Ben!” when we were supposed to be practicing Spanish in the language lab. He sounded like a walking 8×10 glossy that an MGM starlet might sign in bulk to mail to fans of their movies.

This weekend, we joined forces to meet the (hopefully) future first female president of the United States, Hillary Clinton. 

Hillary was set to speak in support Senator Kay Hagan’s reelection campaign last Saturday at the Charlotte Convention Center. The event invited past and present volunteers. I tore tickets at the front door. Then I wormed my way to the front of the crowd. Hillary spoke last. I was mesmerized by her presidential-esque speech, which was filled with quotables like, “Women’s rights are like the canary in the cave. If you don’t protect them, everyone’s rights are at stake.”


I almost cried, but I wanted to preserve my makeup in case I got a photo with her. Ben, who was down several people from me, was full-on blubbering. The two eventually came around the front row and shook hands with people. I was squished between a lithe man and a big guyhillary hello who stuck his green-checked shirted arm over my head to shake Clinton’s hand.

Then she was in front of me.

“Congratulations on your granddaughter!” I said.

“Thank you!” she said.

That’s when my head start spinning. Her face was glorious and wise and smiling. I looked at her turquoise beads and earrings.

“Turquoise is your color!” I said, and she laughed. Yes, I made Hillary Clinton laugh. All we needed were two mimosas, a fluffy pink bed and a captain’s hat and we would have been filming an episode of Pillow Talk.

Ben, through tears, told her that she inspired him. Her eyes got glassy. Glassy! They were crying together.

Once the last Secret Service agent disappeared behind the navy curtain, I found Ben. We made a high five Hillary video, and then went out for celebratory nachos and frozen margaritas. We gabbed en route to the restaurant about the quality of Hillary’s handshake.

“It was firm,” he said.

“Her hands were soft,” I noted.

“She exfoliates,” he said, as if he knew this fact the whole time and was just now telling me.

The experience of meeting Hillary is even more special because I did it with my old partner-in-crime. Ben, I can’t wait until Hillary invites us for brunch in the Diplomatic Room someday.

Until next week: What’s the best and/or most exciting thing you’ve done with a best friend? Tell me and follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook!