Cover image for Bleachy-haired honky bitch : tales from a bad neighborhood
Bleachy-haired honky bitch : tales from a bad neighborhood
Gillespie, Hollis.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Regan Books, [2004]

Physical Description:
279 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN4874.G385 A3 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



NPR commentator Hollis Gillespie's outrageously funny -- and equally heartbreaking -- collection of autobiographical tales chronicles her journey through self-reckoning and the worst neighborhoods of Atlanta in search of a home she can call her own. The daughter of a missile scientist and an alcoholic traveling trailer salesman, Gillespie was nine before she realized not everybody's mother made bombs, and thirty before she realized it was possible to live in one place longer than a six-month lease allows. Supporting her are the social outcasts she calls her best friends: Daniel, a talented and eccentric artist; Grant, who makes his living peddling folk art by a denounced nun who paints plywood signs with twisted evangelical sayings; and Lary, who often, out of compassion, offers to shoot her like a lame horse.

Hollis's friends help her battle the mess of obstacles that stand in her way -- including her warped childhood, in which her parents moved her and her siblings around the country like carnival barkers, chasing missile-building contracts and other whimsies, such as her father's dream to patent and sell door-to-door the world's most wondrous key-chain. A past like this will make you doubt you'll ever have a future, much less roots. Miraculously, though, Gillespie manages to plant exactly that: roots, as wrested and dubious as they are.

As Gillespie says, "Life is too damn short to remain trapped in your own Alcatraz." Follow her on this wickedly funny journey as she manages to escape again and again.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

A publicist attached the word memoir to this book by the NPR commentator and Creative Loafing columnist, but lacking much of a through line (and with a lot of repeated information), it reads more like a collection of commentary and columns. Gillespie dealt with a difficult, itinerant childhood by settling in Atlanta, forming a new family of offbeat friends, and working toward home ownership. Irreverent and earthy, sometimes fairly funny, most of these microessays follow a similar formula. She free-associates between past and present, ruminating on self, friendship, and family, bundling it all into a life-affirming epiphany (let go of needless attachments, live in the moment, don't live in fear) within a couple of pages. Some are quite successful, although the book isn't entirely compelling as a front-to-back read: each piece is so short that it feels like being stuck in stop-and-go traffic. Curiously, the bad neighborhood of the title is discussed only at the very end, and Gillespie's reflections on moving to a poverty-stricken area are pretty thin. --Keir Graff Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this zesty memoir, NPR commentator and flight attendant Gillespie riffs on everything from her work as a "bad German translator" to her belief that a lesbian ghost is haunting her house. Gillespie, a hard-living bleached blonde who yearns to own a house, is as charming as a friendly drunk who says one funny, impossible sentence after another. She chronicles her life in diminutive essays, with an appreciation for absurd, seemingly minor moments. The book's title comes from the curses yelled by a man who was taking an "asshole stroll" across the road, ambling along with the speed of a diseased bovine, Gillespie notes, when she almost hit him because she wasn't paying attention. She suspects the neighborhood denizens will be unhappy that someone like her is looking for a house in the area: "[The crack dealers] shake their heads dejectedly, knowing it's a bad day for the neighborhood when bleachy-haired honky bitches can't brake to accommodate a good asshole stroll." Among these bright moments of detail, Gillespie manages to tell the story of her family, and like any family worth examining, it has an unusually large number of oddballs. Her mother, who wanted to become a cosmetologist but was terrible at it, ended up as a weapons designer after falling into a job at IBM. Her usually jobless father excelled at charming people into buying him drinks and wearing designer shoes. Sometimes tender, but mostly just wry and a bit wild, Gillespie's writing is like the best radio commentary, leaving fans hungry for more. Photos. (On sale Mar. 2) Forecast: Author appearances throughout the South will lure in readers, and Gillespie's NPR fans are a sure bet, too. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch Tales from a Bad Neighborhood Hellish Gargoyle If nothing else, at least I'm living up to my name these days, because I just discovered that in German -- make that bad German -- my first name means "hellish." And my last name is even worse. In German, my last name means "gargoyle." You would think I would have known about this sooner, because I've been a bad German interpreter for twelve years now, but you'd be surprised at how long you can interact within another culture and still keep your knowledge of it neatly limited. Take my mother, who was subcontracted to build missiles for the Swiss in the late eighties. We lived in Zurich for two years, and the only German word she learned was ja . She couldn't even pronounce "Waikiki" but in my eyes she compensated for her lack of knowledge in this area by the fact that she had a job making bombs. As an interpreter, my dealings in Germany have mostly been polite business relations, so I've never had the need to say the word "hellish" to these people -- not unless I was introducing myself anyway. You'd think I'd be better at the whole communication thing, considering I'm an official foreign-language interpreter. Fortunately for me I represent people who have no idea I'm using a very broad interpretation of the word "interpreter" to describe my services. As far as they know, I'm translating their words with sparkling precision, but luckily the Germans are pretty tolerant of non-natives who attempt their language, so the interactions usually go off smoothly. Once, an American doctor directed me to ask a German patient when she had had her last bowel movement, and I dutifully turned to the woman and asked her, essentially, "Madame, when was the last time you went to the toilet solidly?" She answered my question and laughed. My clients must think I am very clever, as I am always making people laugh in their native languages. It is apparently even funnier because I have perfect pronunciation, and I can turn to a German pharmacist and say without a hint of an accent, "It would please me greatly to purchase medicine for my fluid nostrils," or to a Spanish taxi driver, while searching for the metal end of the over-the-shoulder safety strap, and tell him, "Pardon me, but I am missing the penis of my seatbelt," or to an Austrian hotel clerk regarding a beautiful fountain nearby, "Is it possible to acquire a room with a view of the urinating castle?" It must be hilarious to hear these massacred phrases spoken with the determined clarity of a cowbell. People gather around me and ask me to repeat myself. "Tell us again about the storm in your stomach," they say, after I translate my account of Montezuma's revenge, "especially the part about your exploding ass." I used to be ashamed at what a bad interpreter I was, until I realized that I get my meaning across, and isn't that the whole point? And there are people out there who actually think I'm good at this. They request me. Every time my work takes me to Europe I still feel giddy, like a stowaway, as if I've been able to stave off discovery long enough to fake my way across the Atlantic one more time. Once, while in Munich, I happily hopped along the river's edge. it was sunny and warm, and I'd just bought a bag of olives at an outdoor market. They were the right kind too -- pitted -- and I was able to request them by clearly stating, "It would please me to have a hundred grams of the big, boneless black ones." But it fell to a Polish hairdresser to finally enlighten me about my name. I'd been in Munich for a week, participating in a study program that would stuff this half-forgotten, guttural language back into my brain in order to retain my interpreter status, and after class one day I ducked into a salon on Sendlingerstrasse to see if anyone there had time to bleach the hell out of my hair. I always figured Germany would be a good place to score some good hair highlights. Anyone who's ever been there can see that all the local women make it their mission to look like they were born and raised on a California beach. Unlike them, though, I actually was born and raised on a California beach, though thirteen years of Atlanta living has seriously eroded my surfer-girl image. The Polish hairdresser's name was Barbara, and I didn't even need an appointment. She simply ushered me to a chair and started slapping some high-test rotgut on my roots. This was my kind of place. In Atlanta, the hairdressers always talk me into new color treatments recently invented by a team of twelve scientists toiling under a glass dome in Finland, The result is usually okay, I guess, but my hair never ends up blond enough. "Can't we dispense with this fancy crap?" I always ask. "Don't you have anything back there strong enough to bum the barnacles off a boat?" American colorists always ignore me and commence their subtle application of a fancy new product. But not Barbara. Barbara's own hair had been bleached so blonde and so bright that, if you had an idea to gawk straight at her head, it would be safer to do it from under one of those protective helmets that welders wear. Her own German was bad, but better than mine, because at least she knew the meaning of my first name. She laughed when she heard it, ,You come from Hell, ja ?" It wasn't until my scalp was practically bleeding that she finally removed the foils and rinsed the solution from my hair, which, by the way, didn't fare too well. Much of it had burned off at the roots, leaving little bald patches, and the streaks that remained were as white as lab mice. I would classify the results as less than successful: My scalp looked like it had been bitten by electric eels. I wanted to get out of there fast so that I could assess the damage privately and see if actual sobbing was called for. In my haste, I forgot my umbrella, which prompted Barbara to dash after me down the busy street. I tried to ignore her but it wasn't happening. She was calling out my name sweetly, my full name, which she'd read from my credit card, and people were beginning to stop and look around, their curious eyes eventually settling on me. There was nothing else for me to do, so I simply turned and took my place in the world. "Over here, Barbara," I answered her. She trotted to my side as I stood there, bleach-blond locks and all. "Hellish Gargoyle, " she smiled, "here you are." Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch Tales from a Bad Neighborhood . Copyright © by Hollis Gillespie. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood by Hollis Gillespie All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.