Admittedly, the only way that Dolly Parton might qualify for The B List would be if she fell over to her left and was subsequently viewed from the feet up, forming a rather voluptuous silhouette of the letter "B." Oh, to dream. Then again, Miss Parton has always been the pin-up party for white trash, bleached and wigged far beyond Loretta Lynn's Butcher Holler. Frankly, I couldn't love her more.
So it is that I'm gathered with the nation's wandering-eye media for the very, very important Orlando opening of her dinner-theater attraction, Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. No liquor, I'm told, as I'm served something of a Shirley Temple in a plastic boot glass. No liquor is never good.
But Dolly is. Recently she's been resuscitating her career with a dash of Dixie Chicks bluegrass and a forever stretched face that says, "I Care." And even though she probably doesn't, her odds are up. Me, I'm in a mammary malaise, sucking hard on a straw that simply won't relent. My odds are down. It's a dry county, after all. I might as well be a raisin.
Speaking of raisins, the ever-shrinking, transparently shrill Al Roker is here from the "Today Show." Oh, how I hate him so. A publicist from another service establishment that does serve liquor, eases down next to me for the dish.
"Is he as much of a bitch as I think he is," I never majored in journalism.
"Totally," she never majored in bartending.
But the real attraction is Miss Parton herself, wo-manning a press-conference situation for the next development in her size-DD vanity collection. Sitting to the left of her right nipple, I wonder if I'll get to speak to her at all. The peanut gallery largely comprises the national wisdom of PEOPLE and Us Weekly. How will I ever stand a chance? Quietly, and soberly, I think to myself, This is a good place for a bomb, er, boob.
"Well, hello everybody, do you hear that alarm going off?" she winces, pouring onto the stage. "It's not for real. They're having all kind of bugs and stuff trying to get this thing open and stuff. But anyway, I wanted to say 'hello' to all of you."
Well, "Hello, Dolly."
"What? Did I just step in something, like bubble-on gum?" she confuses me. "I just wanted to say how happy we are to finally be in Orlando!!!!"
Yeeeeeeee-haw, go the cows.
"Everybody said, 'Well, what in the world did you come down to Orlando for? Don't you think that's pretty stiff competition? Walt Deeeesney?' I said, 'No, I ain't skeert!' There ain't nuthin' Mickey Mouse about the Dixie Stampede!"
In reality, there is something Walt Deeeesney about the Stampede: Minimum-wage workers who glare into your face with that combination look of cheer (schlocky metaphoric overstatement, the Civil War ... as a musical!) and leer (two large, round appendages designed for distraction.)
"If you wanna ask questions, I'll tell you anything!" she drawls.
"Dolly, you're a diva!" screams somebody obviously fat and obviously gay.
"I told you to wait in the truck!" she snaps back.
"Hi, I'm Michael from People Magazine" (people's Michael from a magazine), is followed by some sound-bite question of, "How it feels."
"As you know, we have three other Dixie Stampedes in Branson, Myrtle Beach and Pigeon Forge," Dolly officially kills Orlando. Omigod, we're the new Branson. "Dixie Stampede's very involved in our Imagination Library. So's Dollywood. We're more than just food and entertainment. There's a lot of people involved in here."
But no utensils, I'll later find out. As part of the redneck tradition propagated by the chafing of her breasts and the pinning of her dimples, Dolly has relegated the meal experience to fingering only.
"Do you remember that time I did say I did need the money, because it costs a lot to look this cheap?"
Yes. Every time. Somebody, painfully, asks about what makes this different. Obviously, it's the buffalo on the menu.
"Well, we tried to make this a little more American," she puts her hand as near to her heart as her glands will allow. "That's why we added the buffalo, it's so American. We don't have that in a lot of the others, 'cause they're kinda hard to store, they're so big ... . We think we've expanded it just enough."
Perhaps too much, Bessie.
"We're expecting to make millions ... and trillions and grillions."
By now I'm sitting on my hands begging for a chance to validate this journalistic experience beyond the obvious standards of a baked potato and rotisserie chicken. Dolly's still yabbering away about how right, good and politically correct her Confederate stance really might be, even though neither my hot waiter (who later might be wearing a Confederate uniform) nor anyone else -- I mean, nobody in attendance or employment -- is black. Ouch.
"Hopefully I'll be around until I fall over in the middle of a song," she forms the letter "B," while answering another question. "When I'm about 120."
It's my time and despite feelings otherwise, I opt for the easy-out question. Oh, and let's not forget that I'm sober. This is sabotage.
"Billy Manes, Orlando Weekly," I thud. "I'm just wondering how much of your music is involved in this ... Stampede."
"I'm sorry, I can't hear you."
So I repeat myself and consequently out myself ... again.
"Well, not a lot really. Except the finale of the show is called 'Color Me America,' which is a song that I wrote the day after Sept. 11th." The 12th, then.
"But I can force them to do more of mine!" she smiles and wins me over forever.