In the early ’70s we lived on Acacia Tree Lane in Irvine. I don't know how old I was in the following memory, but I'm guessing three or four. If you went into the back yard, out the gate and down a small hill across the sidewalk, you'd be on another street that was probably the better half of a mile away by car, but only 30 feet as the crow walks. Such was the anomaly of the town's circuit-board-like layout—a poorly planned planned community.
The house directly behind ours, both half a mile and 30 feet away simultaneously, belonged to a very old couple probably in their ancient 50s. (My parents were merely Really Old in their early 30s.) The ancient couple were not friends of my parents that I can recall, though everyone in that time and space was friendly and neighborly enough. I used to toddle down the hill and ring their bell to visit on occasion. They would always invite me in and were nice to me. I don't think they knew what to do with the young neighbors' wandering child—the house wasn't particularly child-friendly, no toys or anything eye-catching. I don't know how this got started, but I went there to punch holes. They'd give me several sheets of blank paper and a hole puncher and I would happily sit there for what seemed like hours to me—and probably seemed even longer to them!—and punch little holes in paper.
We must have had a hole puncher at home, but I don't remember ever zen'ing out making endless little circles there. The joy in hole punching was intrinsically tied to the old couple's house. I didn't have any particular interest in the boring old farts; I was in it solely to punch holes.
Eventually mom asked me not to go bothering the ______'s anymore. I don't know if they complained to mom about me, or if she felt bad that her kid was popping by unannounced. (I'd have admonished my 3 y.o. to stop bothering elderly neighbors myself.) I remember briefly mourning such a riveting pastime, snatched away. It was on my little kid circuit, after all, like a cat on its stupid cat rounds. A routine pilgrimage that had its significance simply because it was part of my autonomous toddler plans.
I don't remember the old couple's names or faces; I have no recollection of the blueprints of their hole punching haven house nor its décor or furnishings—I can only see a sheet of paper with hundreds of holes in it, punched so closely together as to reap the greatest number of circles without breaking the honeycomb structural integrity of the sheet of paper. I didn't know if my goal was to render the most holes I could into a little pile, or erode as much negative space as physically possible and still have one contiguous sheet of paper. Both were crucial, probably—a dedicated multitasker at age 3. Fugues and counterpoint years before I would know those words.
In 1997 I remembered the hole punching house, and I began making paintings playing off the simultaneous positive and negative space of hole punching to render the image I had in mind.
No particular point to these ruminations, other than a mental shout-out to the _______'s for their kind patience when an uninvited, seemingly autistic little weirdo would come a-calling.
I'm sure they're dead now (though if either of them are still alive, I'd love to send them a painting), but I hope they had a nice, quiet, hole-free dotage.
Today I perform my first wedding. Technically, my wards were married two weeks ago in New Orleans, because it was much simpler since I'm a registered holy man in Orleans Parish, not Rhode Island where the ceremony will take place in two hours. In New Orleans, we did a quick paperwork transaction at a coffee shop near City Hall, husBen being one witness, and the friendly barista girl being the other. After the transaction, I was presented with three dead rats—true, I had asked for them because Scully, my python was hungry, but I like to think of such an offering as a standard ministerial fee. "Don't forget three more dead rodents with which to cross my palm!" I texted Ryder last night from Provincetown, the gayest city east of Gaysville, GA at the land's end of Cape Cod where husBen and I had enjoyed a pleasant three day sojourn.
This morning found us up and, if not exactly at 'em, then at least towards 'em, at 7:00am to make the early afternoon ceremony in Portsmouth, R.I.
This is a particularly meaningful event for me, due to the identity of Ryder, the groom. Flashback: it's 1991. I'm a student at The American University in Washington. My favorite band in the world, Throwing Muses, is playing our university. I'm in seventh heaven; their music, at that time in my life, was often my only solace and reminder that the world didn't entirely suck, and that there was realness afoot, you just had to go to some trouble to find it in an otherwise shallow, live-for-the-moment western civilization. (Yah, these were my semi-Goth days. Shaddup. It's a necessary stage for the discerning gourmand of life's full buffet.)
Kristin Hersh, the lead Muse, was in many ways MY muse, and when I saw her perform that belovèd music…seven and a half months pregnant, I nearly swooned. Talk about your anti-rockstar! My reverence redoubled. End flashback.
Present day: in two hours, I will be officiating the marriage of that 1991 soon-to-be-born Ryder, erstwhile a rock n roll lump, now a tall, striking lad that I've had the enormous good fortune to have known lo these last six years.
A couple of years ago he lived with us for a semester while attending Tulane U. It was supposed to be just until he found somewhere Uptown that was both affordable and livable. But Ben and I were so taken with the lad's thoughtfulness, gentleness, intelligence, and incredible baking skills that we offered him Manderley's guest room for as long as he liked, gratis. Thus I became f'uncle* to Ryder. (*Faux-Uncle.)
He met Jade during a year in Japan, and they fell for each other hard. I met her eventually when she came to New Orleans and my first impression was of the tenderness they felt for each other. I delighted in the giant smile that so rarely had appeared on Ryder's often-troubled visage. I didn't think he could be that happy. Probably, neither did he.
A couple years later they decided to marry. Jade dreamed that I officiated the ceremony, and they asked me if I could do that. I'd always meant to become a holier-than-thou man for just this kind of call, so I did all of my paperwork and got myself all ordained n' stuff.
So today I marry off my ne-faux-yew and so begins his life as a real-life grown-up with his own family.
It'll be odd, looking at Kristin in the congregation, remembering her slow, gravid sway as she slashed out the guitar licks I still love and howled her beautiful music 24 years ago. So much has happened since 1991, and I'm profoundly grateful that one of the aspects of that time lapse was that our paths not only crossed, but seem to have merged together.
Today, I'm a proud f'uncle.
It's probably because I just left an open mic stand-up comedy gig my friend Paul curates. An hour of tales of people's mundane events rendered brilliant by the Comedic Process may have inspired me to login to dusty ole' LiveJournal to air my yarn. It's my walk home from the gig that I wish to speak about.
I left the Allways Lounge a bit famished, having not supped since luncheon some nine hours prior. On the ten block walk back to the structure I call my demesnes, there are a number of comestible options to choose from, that with the most propinquity being a venerable late-night establishment called Rally's. I'm no chicken; I crossed the road. And I waited at the outside window, said institution not having a proper dining room.
There were a couple people standing about awaiting their order, I presumed. My presumption proved correct when the scullery maid slid open the window and fairly barked at a girl standing near, "Wotchoo order? A Oreo smoovie?"
The girl nodded. The wench retreated back into the bowels of the restaurant to begin smoovifying some Oreos, never mind the new prospective customer (your humble narrator) waiting patiently at the window to deliver his order.
When she had finished her machinations, she slid open the window again and handed the prize to the lady in waiting. "Uh, there's no damn Oreos on this," she rolled her eyes at the harried serf. The frosty cocktail disappeared back into the aforementioned bowels and more ministrations were thrust upon it. Your servant, this humble narrator, once again went not only neglected, but unacknowledged—a most perplexing existential crisis suggested itself!
Meanwhile, another worthy employee flung open a side door holding a paper bag and a chalice of Sweet Tea. He approached the other gentleman waiting for his order with this chilling confession: "You got da burger with da Swiss? Here. Them muthafuckas be SLOW! Bitches be ruinin' my night! I'm OUT, y'hurd?" The worthy, having delivered the required répas, stormed off into the night, throwing his name tag into the sewer, illustrating further his displeasure with the situation he had just departed.
The scullery maid continued to busy herself endlessly over the Smoovée d'Oreo, finally finished, delivered the treat, then began a jaunty chaw with another kitchen hand. Oh! what laughs they shared in the kitchen as yours every so truly and patiently continued to stand in the window, awaiting acknowledgement of my existence, said existence rapidly becoming more elusive and transparent even to my own self.
Another couple of hopeful hungries had queued up behind me in the last ten minutes. I turned to the closest and opined, "Fuck this fucking ghetto shit," and bemade my way down the beavenue on the route behome.
Appetite in no way sated, I espied the nearest option on my path. The Château du Donald's. As I veered towards the establishment, to my ears came the acrimonious wafts of controversy.
"Muthafucka, you want a PIECE!?" Two fellows seemed, as the plebeians say, "at it" in the parking lot. Nothing spoils an appetite like bloodshed, so I crossed the street towards the delicatessen yclept "Subway", which beaconed warmly with its OPEN sign gleaming in the night like a siren to a sailor.
As I neared the eatery, I bethought to myself, "Wouldn't it be perfect, given the results of my last two attempts at sustenance, if, at 9:37pm, a totally random time, the OPEN sign suddenly went off?"
I approached the edifice and placed my hand upon the door. It was at that precise moment the OPEN sign, erstwhile the light at the end of my hungry, hungry tunnel, winked out to darkness, and a becostumed wench on the other side of the door turned the lock and waggled her finger at me, à la the Delta Airlines 'No Smoking' Lady.
A rare moment of religion crossed my mind as I once again realized that such events as I had witnessed in the last eight minutes did in fact prove the existence of Intelligent Design, and I was the butt of this petty, bored god's joke. I sallied forth to the next dining option, a ghetto corner store with a late night deli. I had little hope of exiting the place alive, not to mention with a meal, but the absurdity of the evening bade me thither, and posthaste!
I walked up to the kibble kounter to witness a client giving instructions as to how she would like her sandwich prepared. In a meth-rattled screech, she bade the sandwich lady to, "Put mo' mah-naize on dat shit! Nah! Now dere be too much! Take summa dat shit off!"
To her credit, the poor charwoman followed these conflicting instructions without a grumble, delivered the result to the harridan, and turned to me. I was relieved, I do not mind confessing, that she could even perceive my presence, for I was still afraid of the weft and warp of my very corporeal fabric after such lengthy neglect from my sweet Rally's wench. I do exist! I thought triumphantly.
I bestowed my order of a hot sausage po' boy to the good lady and she was on it like a rabbit on … another rabbit. Such was her vigilance that when a stoopèd and grizzled mountebank approached the counter and began barking orders at her, she replied in not-too-broken English, "I make something else. You wait your turn." She was my unlikely champion, and I mused over the apparent success of my quest in such a base establishment, after such failures at the more 'respectable' eateries I had tried.
As I waited for my coveted po' boy, the next customer approached – a woman with an elaborate up-do-rag, neon Spandex culottes, flip-flop footwear encrusted by the lapidist Swarovski, and an in-no-way-matching neon midriff blouse belying the fact that the woman was, as the saying goes, 'in trouble.'
'In trouble again' should have been the saying, as a toddler freshly sprung from the bun oven three years ago clung to its matriarch's leg like dryer lint, whimpering almost inaudibly, but incessantly. It was occasionally favored with a brisk smack to the Fontanelle by its mother. Quelle tendresse, thought I.
"Gimme dat chicken!" demanded the churlish figure, poking the Plexiglass barrier with knock-off designer sunglasses as she motioned towards the fowl that entranced her.
"You wait. I help another," replied my angel behind the counter.
"Fuck dis shit," rejoined the breeding thing as she stormed down the chip aisle grabbing snacks hither and, yes, even thither.
My po' boy assembled, I happily made my way to the cashier, only to find the neon-beclad woman already at the station, handing money over to the proprietor and beckoning to her progeny gently with, "GITCHO ass over here 'fore I SLAP you!"
I paid my po' boy tithe and made my hasty exeunt, exalted, sobered, a wiser and sadder man.
That which does not kill us gives us po' boys.
Another few blocks towards my Shangri-La, I came across my old friend from Rally's, he who had ceremoniously discarded his very identity into the gutter with a gutterish roar. He was sitting on someone's steps, barking into a cellular device, "Bitch! Pick me up! Ho! Bitch! Bitch-ho! Pick me UP!"
My eavesdropping did nothing to further my wisdom, though my sadness was duly augmented.
I made my way home and munched my po' boy with desultory gloom.
It was a delicious sandwich, by the way.
My first-person-shooter video performance of Bach's Fugue No. 1 in C from the holy WTC, à la Natalie Wood's Schubert performance in the film "Brainstorm." Who needs a fancy strappy headgear thingy for the GoPro when you have rubber bands, Starburst candies and packing tape? DIY, bitches.
Bach Fugue Video
I have always had a love/hate relationship with Bach. Love his music. Hate that my dyslexia makes learning his music an exquisite torture, for he is a dyslexic's ultimate nightmare. Both of these are reasons why I'm continually drawn to attempting to play his music. Nothing — and I mean nothing — compares to the sense of conquering the unconquerable when, after days or weeks of agony, I can finally surmount my own shortcomings and the incredible complexity of his music, and find Bach flying from my fingers in a bona fide Eureka moment. It's tantamount to those dreams in which you find you can fly.
For the uninitiated: a fugue is a song with a key melody or melodies playing over each other. Think of four people singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat in rounds. Now change everyone's key so they harmonize, add some counterpoint and variations and ornaments, and voilà, la fugue. A child can play RRRYB on the piano. A clever child can play the theme in C with the right hand, and the same theme in G with the left hand, a measure behind. But add FOUR voices, each hand playing two separate songs simultaneously, overlapping, passing from one hand to the next as voices cross, and you have a finger-twisting dyslexic hot mess.
Once upon a time, taking acid with Melinda and Audrey, like you do, we came to the section of the evening where each adventurer goes off into a corner and contemplates his or her own solo mysteries. I loaded up Keith Jarrett's CD of the Well-Tempered Clavier, slapped on some cans and read along with the music (as you can in the video below). This first fugue in C became a mystical, mathematical journey which I will always treasure. The music notes turned into a math sentence. With the simple, solo first iteration of the theme at the beginning, the measure turned from notes into a simple '1 ='… The second measure, still one solo voice, gave simple definitions of what 1 could equal: '= 1 x 1 - 4 + 4'… As the second voice joins in, the computation became more elaborate: '1 = (4/4^1) / (4^2 - 2^3 x 2 + 1)…' By the time four voices were singing over each other with the simple theme mimicking, echoing and morphing all over the place, the mathematical sentence became something like you'd see scribbled on Stephen Hawking's doodle pad. Big, obstreperous calculations that you know must end up equaling 1, but you're not sure how such a complex function could possible be reduced to something so simple. Towards the end of the piece, as each voice resolves itself and fades away — three voices, two voices — we are left with one solo voice, rising not in the original theme any more, but with an echo of the theme's meter, landing ultimately at a sweet high C major chord. The sheet music thinned down accordingly until, in the last measure, I saw, ' = 1'.
1 = 1. There are so many places you can go and infinite paths you can take in that simple reflexive. And, of course, no one could do it better, before or since J. S. Bach, the Carl Sagan of Row, Row, Row Your Boat.
Also? I miss good, clean, early-90s San Francisco acid.
Mood today: disappointed.
Confession: I voted for Nagin on the second go-around.
Justification: You must remember this election was not long after Katrina. A lot of the urgent, most devastating, deadliest problems during the aftermath of the failure of the federal levee system came from neglect of the federal government to act. While I was sweating bullets in Upstate New York, watching my city fall to shit, there were three people who gave me hope. In order of importance:
1) General Honoré, who came to town and cracked the biggest bullwhip you ever done seen and got shit DONE!
2) Anderson Cooper who, along with precious few others, actually bothered to verify his facts before airing his reports. (The sloppier journalists who proclaimed early on, "The Bywater is gone!" had me laid out on the floor with palpitations, believing my house was destroyed and animals all dead.)
3) Nagin. He was just a little ole mayor with not much power to implement the massive governmental forces that needed to be set into motion, but he yelled and screamed loud enough to get Baby Bush's belated (albeit somewhat distracted) attention.
When the mayoral reelection came up, I was still doe-eyed and shell-shocked from the storm and figured, hey, he's been through this catastrophe and no doubt has learned which phone calls to make if it happens again. Now he's got the right mucky mucks on speed dial. He seems to actually give a damn about New Orleans and isn't the stereotypical (dare I say ubiquitous?) corrupted city official more interested in lining his pockets than getting his job done.
Then he was elected, and quickly became a useless cunt of a mayor, spurring people on to putting bumper stickers on their cars wistfully naming Nagin's last day in office, counting the minutes until we could have someone effective in control.
For most of his second term, he lived in Houston. Talk about hometown dedication.
I thought, okay, he may be a total waste of oxygen, and about as useful as a helium balloon paperweight, but at least he's not a crook.
And now, years later, he's indicted on a bajillion-minus-one counts of asshattery and going to the Big House (PLEASE let it be the horror show of OPP, arguably the worst prison in the country!)
Mood today: disappointed.
I'm on Level 20 of the cool new video game French Quarter Dog Walker. I read on the forums that at level 25 you get a new liver!
Granted, I've set the console to EASY mode today since I wasn't a) hungover (NORMAL) or b) still drunk (DIFFICULT). But even the EASY levels are progressively more difficult. Obviously. (New livers don't come cheap.)
Today's quest was one of the simpler ones: walk Dog to the bank and back … on a slow Wednesday afternoon. Which is much simpler than, say, walk from Molly's at the Market on Lower Decatur to the Erin Rose off Upper Bourbon on a Saturday night already half-wasted. But even my simple banking task is confoundedly tricky by Level 20.
It starts at Dauphine & Orleans, just outside Home Base. Usually not too tricky an intersection to traverse. Dauphine has no stop sign. Orleans has one. Though even on EASY mode, Level 20 gives you some real Saturday Night DIFFICULT obstacles. The car coming down Dauphine stopped at his no-stop-sign spot. On previous levels, you just wait for this annoying Baddie to realize that he neither has traffic to yield to, and he never had the stop sign in the first place. Eventually they figure this out and go. You cross. Easy peasy.
Today, the car just sat there. I hit the X/Y buttons in rapid succession to wave the car through his right-of-way-gone-wrong. When he still didn't move, I hit the B button for one of those zippy little lines the character can speak. "Drive, you cunt! Drive, you cunt!" said my character. The car stayed there, driver ignoring my X/Y and B buttons. So I crossed. When I was in the center of the street, and right in front of his grille, he lurched forward. Dog spun around while I tried to dive forward into Drop and Roll mode. We barely made it, and the angry car honked as he squealed off from 0 to 90 down the small, crowded street.
Jesus, and I'm barely out of Home Base? I thought. I sharpened up my reflexes, ready for whatever this level had in store. I'm a professional gamer, after all.
I always choose my Dog to be a Female-Lab-Mutt-Rescue. Friendlier/non-Rescue dogs can get you into trouble because they want to engage some of the Baddies, while tiny "adorable" dogs attract the Baddies and it's more difficult to be on your way. The Mutt is generally not too pretty, so not too attractive to the annoying French Quarter characters, and the Rescue is shy, though a little unpredictable. Lab is a good sized dog as you need a large dog to thwart the approaches of some of the Thug characters. And Female is not generally as aggressive as a Male. (Unless confronted with another Female Dog character out on a walk, but you can always cross the street. If you're careful — ha ha!)
Having almost lost a life crossing the street, Dog and I were immediately accosted by Black Crazy Man, Archetype #17, which, if you don't know the game, is the middle-aged one with the knee-length filthy jeans and the grime-encrusted t-shirt printed with a funny saying you can't read. On earlier levels, he's not much of a threat. He yells at imaginary people, rarely confronting any other "living" sprite. But he can make sudden movements when agitated, and as you know, if Dog bites someone jittering around in front of her, it's Game Over. (Rescue Dog may bite if sufficiently startled. One of the trade-offs for choosing this kind of companion.)
Crazy #17 had just come from yelling at the neighbor down the street painting his house. (I made a note to watch out for paint buckets falling from the sky and got ready to dodge, or just cross the street if it looked safe.) This did not bode well if #17 was already confronting people. Usually they live in their own rich inner worlds, so to speak.
And wouldn't ya know it, but my avatar had just lit a cigarette, which is bad news when Bums or Crazies are around.
I slowed down cautiously as our paths neared crossing each other. He was already jittery and agitated. I held down the A button and pressed L to rein in Dog's lead. She was already getting a little jittery herself. My strategy was to keep my pace slow and alert until I was next to Crazy #17, then hit A-A-A-A for QuikStep Function out of his range.
"Fuck you! Don't talk to me!" Crazy #17 was yelling at a street sign. Good he was distracted by his own chimera. Maybe he wouldn't notice me. When we were about eight feet apart, he spotted the lit cigarette. Crazy #17 stopped in suspended animation while his PowerUp revved. I should have done the A-A-A-A thing then. If you're really quick, you can manage to get out of range before the PowerUp can take effect. This time, I acted too slowly.
"Ahkahava…" he said at me. "Ahkahavacigarette? Ahkahavacigarette?" Fuck. Busted. I switched to Camera Mode and made my guy's eyes look away. Sometimes this is effective as Bums and Crazies might wander off without further molestation if they're feeling you're ignoring them. The price to essay the Ignore tactic is that your eyes are averted, and the adversary can sometimes kill you while you're not looking, or Dog could kill him. In any event, you have to start from the last Save, which is annoying.
Miraculously, Black Crazy Man lost interest in us and started mumbling to himself disconsolately until we were out of range. Phew.
My god. I'm not even a full block from Home yet. Nice, Level 20.
Friendly Neighbor Man rolled his eyes at me to commiserate over the avoided kerfuffle which he witnessed, and I hit X/Y to wave at him, eyeing his paint cans suspiciously. If he engaged with me too much, he'd inadvertently kick over paint. If paint (or Hand Grenade or Hurricane or Chewing Gum or Gumbo Puke or any other sticky substance) gets on Dog, you have to abort your mission and go straight to the Groomers, which costs time and ducats and your Annoyance Level jumps up five bars.
Friendly Neighbor Man's paint buckets stayed put. Potential problem #3 avoided. I was still only one block away from Home Base. This was going to be a long adventure.
Next up, crossing Bourbon Street. I steeled myself as this is always the toughest part of any level, and considering what Level 20 was throwing my way, I was prepared for the worst.
We hadn't traveled far, but Dog had yet to stop my character by finding stale urine to sniff. When Dog smells pee, she goes to sniff it and you can't move forward until she has finished investigating. Then she's usually good for another half block or whole block before she'll stop you again. You can hit Y-Y-Y-Y over and over, tugging at her leash until she is forcibly yanked away from whatever nasty offal she's found, but it makes Dog sullen and slows down your progress and makes sudden maneuvering a little clunky. I could not afford to have clunky moves crossing Bourbon, so I did a little pre-crossing ritual that, though not very daring or exciting to watch, is a funky little strategy I read about on the web that really works! (Don't worry—no cheat codes are deployed. I play fair n' square.)
I let my avatar finish his cigarette (stupid guy lights up almost as often as Dog smells garbage and piss), thus avoiding any Bums or Crazies accosting me for that reason. I also found the stinkiest pole about twenty feet from Bourbon Street and watched as Dog's Effluvium Investigation Meter slid down from red, into yellow, and finally green. Good. That should hold her for a minute or so. I switched back to Camera Mode and eyed my avatar's pockets, looking for any protrusions of ducats that a Baddie might try to lift, or pull an Ahkahava… number on. All clear. Flick back to World View.
I waited for a relative gap in foot traffic on Bourbon St. It took me, like, fifteen tries to cross Bourbon on Level 19 because I kept getting swept up in the flows and eddies of the drunken pedestrians on the street and once ended up all the way down at Famous Door. (If you get too close to Famous Door on a Friday or Saturday night, the shitty cover band's sheer volume shatters your eardrums and Dog keels over with nervous exhaustion and you lose a life. Death by REO Speedwagon. No thank you!)
I saw my break and hit A-A-A-A to dart out into Bourbon. Though I wasn't caught up in any currents, this being a Random Wednesday Afternoon and foot traffic being relatively light, I did somehow stumble into a coven of Drunk Cougars. You can tell these women are Cougars because they wear the bengal-print cowboy hats and lots of faux-gold jewelry. As if the spray-on tan over the tanning-bed tan wasn't clue enough. (The graphics are so good on this game! I heard the designers were Oscar winning set decorators and key set wardrobers. I believe it.)
Shit. They spotted Dog. I held A and pressed the joystick Left to rein in Dog's lead again. Her head was darting around so spasmodically that she started that backwards-circular-walk thing which some forum members say is a glitch in the programming because it's so not-lifelike and weird and almost impossible to snap her out of.
"Ohhhh! Puppy!!!!" screamed all the Cougars at once. I hit pause and checked my Vitals — Eardrum Level was in the yellow. I gotta get out of this, I thought. Drunk Straight Girls may be loud, but the Cougars are the worst!
Dog was still in a tailspin (ha-ha) and I had to hit Y-Y to yank her out of the panicky programming glitch. It wasn't working. If I couldn't get her out of this backwards jumping/stumbling nonsense I'd never get off Bourbon. I hit B and joysticked Down to aim my speech at the dog. My guy said, "C'mon Dog. C'mon Dog. C'mon dog. C'mon dog." Did you know you can press down on the joystick itself, like finding reverse in an old VW, while holding the B speech button and your avatar will make little kissy noises? Only do this if the regular "C'mon Dog," thing isn't working, as the kissy noises can also attract Drunk Straight Girls and Show Queens.
Finally Dog snapped out of her funk and I Y-Y-Y'd her out of the huddle of Hand-Grenade-spilling Cougars and across the street and off Bourbon the requisite ten feet where I stopped and let the Eardrum Meter and the Anxiety Meters (for both my guy and Dog) melt down into green again.
There are lots of characters in this game that can only be on Bourbon Street. It's brilliant design. There's a force field thingy eight feet off the street that they can't cross. It's fun to stand ten feet away from the street, and two feet away from the invisible wall and watch them sorta moonwalk in place, trying to get to you or Dog. My favorite thing is when a Drunk Fratboy wants to start some shit with you and keeps punching the air two feet from your face, then, when he's exasperated, throws up and it bounces back off the force field and drips down his pastel Izod shirt (collars up, of course).
Anyway, meters down into a safe green reading again, I hit B and Down to say, "C'mon Dog," and we continued down Orleans Ave. toward the back of St. Louis Cathedral.
I've played Jackson Mississippi Dog Walk before, but it's not nearly as good as French Quarter. The churches in the Mississippi version are tough to get around. Evangelicals, fundamentalists and Westboro-type hatemongers can be tricky to navigate and if you lose a life there, you go to hell for an eternity—booorrrringgg. And there are just so many damn churches in that other game! In FQDW, the churches are generally considered safe zones though, New Orleans being a godless town, with the sole exception of St. Louis Cathedral and its black wrought iron fence loaded with crap paintings the Bad Hippie Artists are hocking. That's on the backside of the Cathedral. The front is tourist hell, and while you sometimes get extra points for going through Jackson Square, I find it's generally not worth it. Especially on higher levels. Too risky.
I should mention that I chose the avatar "Homo'ner" (the gay homeowner) who is my all time favorite. I set the age to mid-40s. While the higher ages take their toll in your guy's reflexes, speed and shorter-fused Annoyance Meter, I've found that setting the age to, say, mid-20s attracts way too many Cougars and, even worse, A-Gays. If an A-Gay gets a hold of your guy and he's in his 20s, watch out! He'll get dragged to the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann and your Eardrum Level will shatter in a matter of seconds from the Oontz-Oontz Clubs there. So I stick with 40s, cranky and crippled as he may be.
For wardrobe, I generally choose Locals' Nondescript. Suit-and-Tie attracts too many Bum and Thug characters. And while you can choose Dragqueen, I don't know why anyone would; it attracts everyone! You can mimic other characters too, if you want. You can dress Fat-Midwesterner or Fratboy or whatever, which makes you invisible to those characters, but more attractive to scam artists and Ahkahava…-type Baddies. Like the Bad Hippie Artists. You can also be a Gutterpunk, which is a good choice because everyone avoids you, although the NOPD tend to beat up your character more, and for no discernible reason. But the trade-off for being a nearly invisible Gutterpunk is the only type of Dog you can have is Unfixed-Male-Rabid-Pitbull-with-Mange, which is constantly infecting tourists with its random biting habits and thus you keep having to start over—not to mention slowing down your avatar with frequent stops to scratch fleabites.
Locals' Nondescript wardrobe makes walking down Pirate's Alley along the side of the Cathedral a no-sweat affair. You just have to make sure that when one of the Hippie Artists says, "Nice Dog," you hit the B speech button or do a quick X/Y wave to acknowledge the compliment. If you keep walking and ignore them, they're liable to start screaming after you, "Your Dog's a bitch and so are you!" and hello Annoyance Meter and Dog's Agitation Meter due to the ruckus!
I hooked a right at the Pirate's Alley Bar, by which I sufficiently avoided Jackson Square and the myriad Baddies lurking around there. Plus, the bar's patrons are usually Goths and Pirates, which, if you're wearing Locals' Nondescript, don't pose any sort of threat. (That I've found! I'll let you know what happens on Level 25!) If you're wearing Wiggercap set to Slant or FrumpFrock on one of the Fat Midwestern avatars, the Goths laugh at you and the Pirates … go, "Arrrr," or whatever it is Pirates do. But in my guy's garb, it's safe passage. Plus, they're the prettiest characters to look at. It's not all about strategy and completing your quest, after all. The game is gorgeously designed and you'd be a fool not to enjoy the scenery and (some of) the characters. Stop to smell the flowers. All that.
And by the way, the game designers aren't so misanthropic that all the 3rd person characters are Baddies. I mean, you've got Friendly Neighbor Man, and Bartenders You Know, and Visiting Gay Guys and others who are actually fun to interact with. But when you're on a quest, any character can knock you off your path by dragging you into a bar for a quick shot or shag. So while I admonish you to stop and smell the flowers and interact with some of the non-Baddies, just be aware that even the Goodies pose a threat in their own way — if you're on a quest. Okay. Back to the walkthru—
I made the turn at Pirate's Alley Bar and walked the short stretch towards the Gelateria. If you're playing in August, this can be a doozy. Sometimes your character is sucked into the shop for a refreshing ice cream, but his ducats are decimated due to the Gelateria's exorbitant pricing. I'm playing in October though, so it's less of a threat even on such a high level. The irregular jutting banquettes of the sidewalk in the Pirate's Alley are still perilous, but when are they not — ha-ha.
Another half block went by with relative ease. I managed to dodge the Suburban Pram-Jam—khaki-clad mom and dad pushing twin strollers with little cabbages screaming their fool heads off inside, taking up the whole sidewalk. You could dash between two parked cars to avoid them, but chances are high you'll get stuck because they're parked so closely together, or you'll get run over by a Ghetto Boomboom Mobile with spinning rims if one is happening by. A master of the game mentioned in the online forum a quick and easy way to deal with the breeders and their sidewalk-hogging spawn: you just stop, turn around, and stay still! Rarely will the parents slam the pram into your, or Dog's legs. Note: definitely keep the leash short when playing Lamp Post Decoy as Dog (especially Rescue Dog) sometimes likes to snack on infants. Lose a life. Go to jail. Do not collect $200. Wait. I'm mixing my game metaphors. Back to the scenario…)
After waiting until the Suburban Pram-Jam is out of range, I let Dog sniff something gross on the wall of the Cabildo to drop her Effluvium Investigation Meter back down and sallied forth to the next block.
Shit. The yarn store. I wish I hadn't set my character's Nelly Level so high. It's hard to walk by without getting sucked in, and it lowers your ducats if you get caught in there. Through some joggling of the joystick, I made it past okay. The bank was on the next block.
I saw a clump of Fat Midwesterners taking up the sidewalk. There were lots of drunkenly swerving cars in the street, so I didn't want to go around them that way. The tourists were in the dangerous four-square formation, backs to each other forming a square and their fingers jutting out to point at things at random, like a human throwing star. You have to time walking by these guys very carefully. They often wait until you're right next to them, then — PING! — poke your eye out pointing to something. I pulled in Dog's leash, waited for the mom character in the FrumpFrock to retract her pointing arm, then hit A-A-A-A to dash past them. Made it by a pixel.
The barker outside the Maspero's restaurant had a wicked looking menu that he was pushing in people's faces. After having almost lost an eye to the clumped family on the previous block, I risked darting into the street and around a parked car in order to avoid losing an eye by his sharp-cornered laminated menu. The street was clear of enormous trucks from Texas swerving around — a small miracle for Level 20, and I was at my destination at last.
I steered my guy into the bank, and a few seconds later he came out. I collected my star for completing the quest, but of course if I didn't make it back to Home alive, the star would be forfeited.
The last few minutes of the game had been going pretty smoothly. A lot of newbie gamers couldn't have made it past the yarn store or the pointing/poking Fat Midwesterners, but I've been playing this game a long time and consider myself an expert.
And dat pride sure do goeth before dat fall, because I didn't look twice at the Pottering Old Man standing on the corner by the Napoleon House. I didn't notice he was leaning on an umbrella. Never mind that it wasn't raining, on Level 20, the designers just throw everything they can at you. And sure enough, for no logical reason in the real world (but this was a video game, so logic needn't apply), the man opened his umbrella, hit my guy in the face, he went stumbling into the street and was run over by a mule cart and died. Game over.
Sigh. Back to Home Base to try to complete the quest again.
There are a few — not many — albums that I can listen to on repeat indefinitely and never get bored with them. For one reason or another, each has a complexity that satisfies the requirements to keep me interested. I have a low tolerance for sub-par, facile music that attempts nothing innovative. Which is to say, I have a low tolerance for about 98% of the music out there.
I don't adhere to any particular genre. The only genres I shun entirely are new country and R&B. Oh, and, I'm sorry, but "contemporary jazz" annoys the shit out of me. In the latter case, my music theory and ability to parse what's going on tries to appreciate modern jazz. I know what they're doing, and I often respect the innovations. But aesthetically it's all a traffic jam on 5th Ave. to me. The song titles of most contemporary jazz might as well be, "Fucking Around in Eb."
The following contain no dud tracks. They're brilliant works of art taken as a whole, and I literally can listen to them on repeat all day.
In absolutely no particular order:
I'm fortunate to know these people. I understand this album was recorded acoustically in a church, in single takes. Their entire opus/career is brilliant, and this stands out amongst the other gems.
ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS: Mercurial
CIBO MATTO: Viva! La Woman!
If I have a favorite band ever, it's this one. I honestly don't think I'd've made it through my Turbulent Twenties without them. And as of 2010 when I had the exquisite pleasure of meeting Kristin Hersh, I consider myself the luckiest sum-bitch in the world to be able to call her a true friend and even collaborator. I've never met anyone kinder.
This early'ish album was my introduction to them and holds a special place in my heart because it opened up worlds to me.
THROWING MUSES: House Tornado
I'm not putting in repeats of bands, but Kristin's punk incarnation I consider wholly different from Throwing Muses, and this album is genius in its own right.
Amazingly, not many people know this band exists. They're a brilliant powerhouse, and every time I play them on the jukebox at The Saint — every time — someone asks me, "WHOA! Who the hell is THIS? It's amazing!"
50 FOOT WAVE: Golden Ocean
I had this on cassette and listened to it until it broke in my walkman in the early ’80s.
CHEAP TRICK: At Budokan
THE CURE: Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
NINE INCH NAILS: The Fragile
I actually dislike "Tainted Love" when played on its own, but in context of the larger, well-plotted story this album tells, it fits, and soars.
SOFT CELL: Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
Every one of these concertos gives me the goosey bumbies.
(In the case of classical music, these are links to the particular performances I consider definitive.)
CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS: The 5 Piano Concertos
I know everyone's gaga over Glenn Gould's interpretations of Bach, and so am I, but in the WTC books, I prefer the constancy of Keith J.
KEITH JARRETT: J. S. Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" Book I
DE LA SOUL IS DEAD
ERROLL GARNER: Body & Soul
ROGER MILLER: All Time Greatest Hits
Filing away the previous journal entry on my hard drive, I stumbled across a draft of my wedding vows to Ben.
This is a happy find since I lost the paper I read off of at the ceremony, and the video of the event is so windblown (we were on a beach) that you can't make out the words.
So in the case of my computer and back-ups exploding, I'm putting them here. Livejournal is forever, after all.
Provincetown, MA, 29 July, 2010
For seven years I have lived each day aware and grateful for your presence in my life. Through the good days, the bad days, and the fly-over days, I have never taken your love for granted. And my love for you has remained constant throughout. (Except for a week or so during our renovation of Manderley, but I never pretended to claim infallibility.)
That's always such an annoying question to be asked: "Where do you see yourself in X years?" For the first few years of my college career, my declared major was Undecided, an option weirdly offered by my alma mater. I pounced on it the second I saw it listed along with a phone book of more specific majors that flummoxed me into pigeon-holed claustrophobia. I think I've lived up to my chosen field of study with exemplary aplomb, changing my career, my habitat and my personality with a deft hand that, if I may say so myself, defines the state of being Undecided. Career-wise, I've been an accountant, a furniture mover, a vacuum salesman, a bartender, an armchair psychologist (same as bartender), a graphic designer, a web designer, a musician, a retail salesclerk, something to do with Wall St. (still never figured that one out), a writer, a painter, a composer, a post production do-it-all, a sidewalk artist, a chimney sweep, and just once, a whore, just to see what it felt like to be paid for it. (Answer: sleazy, awesome.) In short, I can do a staggering number of things not very well—a jack-off of all trades.
I've lived in London, Upstate New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans, always looking for something that felt like what I imagined "home" should feel like. (Answer: New Orleans.)
I've been the cool kid, the detested outcast, the studious bookish type, the drunken idiot, the Goth, the bad poet (during the aforementioned stage), the punk, the victim, the bully, the momma's boy, the philanderer, the philanderee, the loyal pillar, the mess of loose marbles, straight, bi and gay. (Answer: gay.)
So where do I see myself in ten years? If I cared to answer the invasive query, I'm certain of the answer's uncertainty. I'm right to say the answer will be wrong. You'll have better luck calling 29 black on a roulette wheel and hitting it, so why not just fuck right off to the casino and leave me alone with your tired, unimaginative questions? And good luck!
My prophetic utterances would never have been more wronger than if you had asked me on 17 June, 2003. I remember the day well. It was the one year anniversary of the breakup with my ex. Though I dumped him, it nearly murdered me to do so, and every one one of those 365 following days after I sadly had to oust him from my life, there was at least one point I'd have a sudden breakdown of tears. It happened like lightning. I could be out with friends, enjoying cocktails on the levee and the moonlight on the Mississippi, and I'd excuse myself, find a quiet corner, and cry for ten minutes. I guessed that was what love did to a person, and I failed to see its allure if this was the price one paid when it ended.
I remember thinking if someone had asked me on 17 June, 1993 where I'd be in ten years, my answer never would have been "Wandering around the French Quarter in New Orleans mourning the loss of a boyfriend whom I'd lost exactly one year prior." I mean, to start with, I was [ahem] "straight" in 1993.
That June evening in 2003 was Movie Night, a weekly thing at the (now-defunct) 735 Club in the French Quarter. My friend Cameron curated the event, mismatching a number of subjects for a wacky triple feature. That night it was The Muppets Take Manhattan, Meet the Feebles, and … funny, I don't remember the last one. I never made it that far, as this story will illustrate.
About half way through the second film, I got up to stretch my legs and take a quick walk around. I think my ass had fallen asleep from being in a chair so long. I walked outside and wandered to the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann. There's a large gay bar there, The Pub, that showed the new episode of Queer as Folk every week. I had never seen the show, so popped in for a moment to watch a bit of it.
This drunk out-of-towner came over to slur and coo at me. I remember feeling lonely, sad and horny during my little walkabout, but mostly sad as I obsessed over this dismal anniversary of being alone.
The guy seemed fun. I took him back to the 735 Club to watch the remainder of Meet the Feebles, which is like the Muppets if Charles Bukowski wrote it and Paul Morrissey directed it. We sat on a round settee making out over the recumbent, sleeping form of my friend Genevieve who would occasionally wake up just long enough to see what was happening, grab my hand, place it on the guy's thigh, and conk back out.
Nature ran her course, the little tramp, and soon we were off to his room at the (now-defunct) Wyndham at Canal Place.
He told me his name was Ben, and I even managed to retain that information for awhile, bad as I am at remembering names. We had a good old-fashioned raunch-fest for a couple hours, and later, when he was in the shower and I was wandering aimlessly around the hotel room, I glanced at a pile of mail and saw it was all addressed to "George."
Really??? I thought with dismay and disgust. He gave me a FAKE CLUB NAME? Do people still DO that? REALLY?! (Answer: he went by his middle name, Ben, though was still George on the dotted line.)
Ben/George/Whoever asked me to stay the night — a strict no-no in the word of gay trick etiquette, but I enjoyed being with him so much that I said yes. It was that, or go home and reexamine the wormhole that sat where my heart used to be, alone with my cat.
I stayed the night. And in the morning, after more crimes against Leviticus, we went across the street to the (now-defunct) Rue de la Course café and just enjoyed each other's company and conversation. In the ephemeral world of gay tricking, this is pretty much unheard of, and we both knew it. And I think we both recognized the rarity of what was happening.
What if we end up together? I thought, terrified that the very act of thinking it would jinx it. I didn't dare to hope.
Ben went back to his home in Nashville; I went back to my little life bartending graveyard shifts at the (now-defunct) Hideout. But we kept in touch. No, that's not quite right; we did more than keep in touch. We kept our dialogue going as if we were still in the same room thanks to the miracle of the (now-defunct?) Microsoft IM and the amazing modern convenience of the (now-defunct?) ISDN internet connection I had at the time.
He worked from home. I had days off, so we had a lot of time to chat on IM. He was a professional gambler, which I thought was interesting and I grilled him on the minutia of his daily routine. He was satisfyingly forthcoming, telling a relative stranger perhaps more of the trade secrets than he should have, but I was voracious on the subject and demanded specifics.
A couple weeks later, The Hideout closed for good. I wasn't scheduled to work, but I happened to be wandering by and my boss Leila was on the balcony above the bar and spotted me in the crowd in the street. "Todd!" she called, "You're working tonight! This is it! We're closing!"
The Hideout, for those who weren't there, was legendary in the Lower Decatur punk rock dive bar scene, which suited me fine for the personality I inhabited at the time, and that last night out-rocked all previous evenings, which is really saying something. Though I wasn't at CBGB's on its closing night, I could still argue that our send-off was more raucous and stimulating and epic than theirs. (You can read about that night here.)
I was the last one out of The Hideout in the morning when the remaining booze and beer had been consumed or removed and the cash register taken away. Leila's husband Christopher actually had to install a padlock on the doors that had erstwhile remained open for 24 hours a day for the last seven or eight years. And I remember thinking as I followed everyone out the doors, I wish Ben could have been here. The thought was jarring. I had just spent the night with my closest, most beloved friends, and about 900 of my happy acquaintances, and here I was pining for a trick who lived in Tennessee.
Another jarring thought that morning as a small crowd gathered solemnly to watch the padlock being installed: I hadn't cried that night. For the first time in a year, my ex's absence hadn't affected me to that degree.
The Hideout closing was the end of an era, but it was also the end of my job. Though I didn't have much money saved, I felt I needed a break from the whirlwind of New Orleans before I dived into whatever Providence had lined up for me next.
Should I go to Europe? See friends in New York? See family out West? I thought. Or see Ben in Nashville? If staying the night at a trick's hotel was a no-no, and coffee the next morning was even more unheard of, flying to a trick's city where you knew no one else and staying at his house was complete anathema. Madness, I tell you. But I broached the subject with Ben on IM and his response was a resounding YES! AND HURRY!
I booked a flight. He picked me up from the airport and took me to his house. We spent a lot of time in bed. We spent even more time talking, each extending trembling tentacles of wonder and curiosity, ready for the whole thing to collapse at the first sign of flakiness, nefarious agenda, idiocy, psychosis, or whatever else one usually finds in the sleazy world of gay tricking. None of these signs became apparent.
I remember sitting alone on Ben's deck, smoking, looking at some nail heads that had worked themselves up and out by a few millimeters over time and thinking, I guess I'm in love. It was no more spectacular than that. Nary a firecracker exploded, nor angels broke into beguiling harmonies. I didn't dare tell him this yet. No quicker way to scare someone off that by telling him you love him, after all. So I found a hammer and smoothed out the errant nails in his deck instead and contemplated the peace in my heart with quiet gratitude.
The next few months were spent with him or me flying to or from Nashville or New Orleans, weepy farewell kisses at airports though we both knew we'd see each other within a week. Soon after, Ben moved to New Orleans; I drove the moving van from Tennessee. Though we were both optimistic about a possible future together, we were cautious and he didn't move in with me. Instead, he found a rental just around the corner from my house in the Garden District. We could see each other's balconies. I suggested we run a tin can and a string and call it a mobile phone.
And shortly after that move, we made the decidedly UN-cautious move and bought a house together in the Bywater.
I quit bartending and became a professional gambler.
We survived the strife and strain of Katrina together.
We bought another house in the French Quarter and remodeled it (more stressful than Katrina.)
And now it's ten years later. And I didn't see myself where I am, big surprise. And that guy who gave me a fake name at the Wyndham is asleep in our big bed with one or more of our pets. And we've survived now-defunct hotels, bars, clubs, cafés, and all the erosion of a decade. And though it's been a difficult ten years for me physically and emotionally and mentally, there was one thing in my life that was unwavering in its constancy and dependability, and that's the mutual love, care and respect that Ben and I have always shared. My world could feel like it's crumbling, as it often has in the last few years, but there's always Ben ready to stand by me.
In 2010 we were married on Cape Cod in Provincetown with two other couples we know from New Orleans, but really, we were kinda married that morning at Rue de la Course by the Wyndham sharing coffee and trying to fool ourselves that this wasn't happening because things that seem too good to be true are usually just that.
And if you asked me today, "Where do you see yourself in ten years?" I'd roll my eyes and suggest some possibilities. I may be running a firewood business in Vermont. Or a New Orleans daiquiri stand in Sitges, Spain. Or an exotic cattery in the Blue Ridge Mountains, or you can just fuck off with your tired question because I have not a ghost of a clue where I'll be in ten years.
Except I do know. I know exactly where I'll be in ten years.
I'll be with my husBen.
"Scott Sussman," I mumbled last night, walking home from the corner pub with my dog and my husBen.
"Who?" asked Ben.
"Just a name I've been trying to remember for a few months," I replied.
[Your screen goes wavy-flashbacky. A lower-third announces "35 YEARS AGO." There is a yellowish-greenish filter over the film to denote the ’70s.]
Scott Sussman lived three houses down on our little cul-de-sac in suburban California. He was a grown-up—probably sixteen or seventeen. I was ten, and that was a generational gap.
He was a Bad Boy. Our little Planned Übercommunity didn't offer much in the way of surprises, so Scott Sussman was someone to be in awe of, even as I feared him and his renegade pack of bad-ass friends.
I guess they were bullies by today's nomenclature, though the term really wasn't used much then. if it were used, it didn't have our current criminal subtext. There were no support groups for the victims of bullies. Kid-life in the ’70s was more like animals sharing space in the wild fields of Africa. Certain species knew to avoid other animals. There was no bitching about how the preying animals were bullies; it was just the natural order of the food chain. Deal with it or get winnowed out.
Example: one day I was riding my bike around the neighborhood. I guess I looked like a wounded gazelle because Scott Sussman and his cackle of hyenas spotted me from their car and decided to lunch upon me. Perhaps I had scraped my knee that day and they smelled the blood. Or maybe they, like dogs, bees and common street thugs, smelled the fear that rolled off smaller creatures like me all the live-long day, exuding a perfume of irresistible I'm-weak-please-fuck-with-me pheromones.
Whatever the reason, as I biked across someone's driveway, Scott Sussman revved his car, squealed towards the driveway, and slammed on the brakes, nearly hitting me, and cornering me between the garage and some impenetrable shrubs.
I whinnied like a spooked pony and tried to back my bike up. Scott Sussman revved his engine angrily, still in drive, with a foot on the brake, making the car shake and lunge like Christine getting ready to attack.
The cackle cackled, and Scott as the pack leader howled with glee.
This went on for approximately EVER, and I'm fairly certain there were tears involved. My tears of terror. Theirs of laughter.
As is often the case with memories in excess of 30 years, I cannot recall how this episode ended. I might have maneuvered my way out of the corner and peddled down a small alley, or they might have grown weary with their game and zoomed off. The idea of telling mom about the incident wouldn't have occurred to me. Even at that age, it seemed fruitless to accuse the lion of acting like a lion. "Stay away from lions, stupid," would be the only logical response to my tattling.
Scott Sussman had peed on enough trees in the neighborhood that all the smaller critters knew this was his territory, whether he was immediately present or not.
While I was mortally afraid of Scott Sussman and his pack, I was also intrigued. As a young child, I looked at people older than I to gauge what I would be like when I reached their age. My grandparents were clearly never going to enjoy my Cheap Trick records, so I prematurely grieved the loss of my own interest in rock and roll. My father neither "got" nor approved of my Rocky Horror Picture Show fascination, so I knew when I reached his age, I would disapprove as well.
I did not want to be a sixteen or seventeen year old bully, though by my logic this fate was inescapable, and so I studied Scott Sussman and his cronies’ ways to prepare myself to be the kindliest bully I could be. If I had to be a bully. Which, apparently, all teenagers were.
And so it came to pass, one fine day, that I was happening past Scott Sussman's house. The garage door was open, and he and his friends were messing around inside doing mysterious teen-things and laughing.
"Hey kid!" called Scott as I passed. I cringed, readying myself for another lion attack. But I was simultaneously and equally intrigued by what was going on.
"Yah?" I piped.
Scott stayed seated (which put me a little at ease), eyed me disparagingly, then asked in a quieter, kinder tone, "Ya wanna get high?"
Scott Sussman's pack quieted down as if the teacher had walked into the rowdy classroom. School was about to begin their quietude and stares implied.
"Sure," I said, dizzy with the fact that we were having a peer-to-peer conversation, and thrilled at the potential insight into the mysterious rites of the Alpha-Teens. School was in session!
Scott eyed me for several unendurable moments. His gaze was an inscrutable poker face, but his concentration on me was terrifying and electric. One could almost hear the gears and cogs clanking and spinning as he devised how he mentally penned the plot.
"You ever get high before?" he asked me with the solemnity and gravity of a police interview.
My answer was the standard answer extracted from kids when asked about grown-up things of which they knew nothing: "Sure. Lots of times."
He could have asked me if I'd ever killed and chopped up squirrels, hijacked a car, calculated π to the 100th decimal place, or had sex. The answer could only be: "Sure. Lots of times."
Scott Sussman's gaze penetrated through my liar's face. He allowed himself one chuckle and a half smile—more of a tiny explosive sigh and a lip twitch.
"What'd ya get high on?" he quizzed.
I should probably mention that I had no idea what the fuck Scott Sussman meant by 'high'. In my sheltered world, coke was cola, drugs were Flintstones, and weed was a garden invasion. And goofballs were stupid kids like me, trying to figure out the complexities of a big, scary world.
I rifled through possible answers to his perplexing query. What did I get high on? My bike? Climbing a tree? Getting on the roof of the house? Ooo, that might be a good answer, because it was not only high, but forbidden, and whatever was going on in Scott Sussman's garage that day was clearly something my parents would forbid!
I went with the standard catch-all answer: "You know. The usual stuff." This rejoinder was the pepper to the previous salty answer of, "Sure. Lots of times." Where one went, the other was sure to follow.
Scott assessed me again, taking his time as I agonized like a beetle stuck on a pin.
"All right. You're cool," he proclaimed to my astonishment, and held out a little paper-wrapped square.
I approached with the same caution and terror the rabbit would feel approaching the lion. Scott Sussman's eyes at once mesmerized me, and made my stomach crawl up my throat.
I took the little rectangle and quickly backed away two steps, holding his gaze.
"TRIDENT," said the wrapper in red diagonal repetition.
GUM? Wait, maybe my answers hadn't been lies! I HAD chewed gum before. "Sure. Lots of times," as the saying went. But I failed to perceive how height may have entered into this somewhat pedestrian pastime. Did gum taste different in a tree or on the roof? I must look into this some time.
Why the hushed tones from Scott Sussman, and the conspiratorial silence from his goons? Gum wasn't even forbidden! I mean, okay, maybe mom would prefer I chewed sugar-free gum, but…
"You ever done [hooba-zooba]* before?" asked Scott.
—*I can't remember what he called this gum drug, but it was complicated and, in hindsight, completely fabricated on the fly.
"Sure, lots of times," I replied a little more confidently, knowing nothing bad would come from this encounter if a stick of Trident cinnamon gum was the worst culprit on the scene.
"Cool. Take it then. Let's get high."
I unwrapped the little pink rectangle and gave it a cursory glance, checking for broken glass or some other mean lion/hyena trick. It looked unaltered.
I popped the gum in my mouth and began chewing.
Nothing was happening.
After what seemed like hours, but was probably just 30 seconds, Scott Sussman checked on the verdict. "So? Do you feel high?"
I was still lost for an answer since I didn't know the verb "to be high." What could it possible mean? Should I start levitating? Can people do that? Does gum help? What answer was expected of me? I didn't want to seem ignorant now that Scott Sussman was treating me, comparatively speaking, as a peer and even initiating me into a secret teen rite. We were halfway to becoming best friends!
Then —POW!— it hit me. I knew what high meant! I felt a rush—a little dizzy, but in a good way. Everything was clear. I could get used to this feeling, I thought.
I smiled at Scott Sussman. I had figured it all out, and the pride I felt from my cleverly deducing the state of being high got me—well, a little high.
My eureka moment: height had nothing to do with it! Oh, you're a sneaky one, Scott Sussman, and no slouch. I'm onto you though. Because there are in fact two meanings of the adjective ‘high’. You think little kids like me are just too dumb to get it? I'll show you who's dumb!
"So? You high yet?" asked Scott again with grave eyes in which I could perceive a tiny sparkle of merry mischief.
I took a deep breath and squeaked in a tiny voice — as high as my voice would go: "SURE AM!"
Is it douchey? Laws yes. The woohoo girls and the bellowin', fightin', fuckin', fartin', drinkin', caterwaulin' frat-in-the-hat boys were circling my house at their fullest decibels until — well, I finally fell asleep at dawn, when, shortly after, I was awoken by the usual hullabaloo at Krayzee Kornurzz, but I can't ascribe the latter to the little sporty event this weekend, so let's move on.
Speaking of circling my house, there's been a helicopter running the perimeter of the French Quarter since about Wednesday. Whether it's NOPD or media, I don't know. Probably the latter. Yesterday, it hovered directly over my house for four straight hours. I was trying to do some dialogue editing. Soon gave that up. This is compounded by the prop planes droning hither and thither (more often hither) dragging their banners for G€i¢ø Insurance and other totally useless pitches. I think they're turning N. Rampart street into an airstrip, actually. I demand the IATA code of MAN for the Manderley Arëopuerta. (As I end this ¶, another helicopter seems to be landing in my back yard.)
Jackson Square, erstwhile known as "my backyard," has officially changed its name to Superbowl Village, no lie. It is the epicenter of all the media, full of TV vans and camera krewes. I'm scared to go over there, but I might have to if only to document the madness with my own camera.
My dog-walking park has been tented and roped off. There are chandeliers in the tents. I don't even want to hazard a guess what's going on in there. I'm sure I'm not vippy enough to qualify, though my dog is saving quite a steaming load until this is over.
Parking is beyond fuckèd. Three days ago I found a spot in the Treme, only a ten minute walk from the house. Yesterday, husBen had the brilliant idea of going out to a proper grocery store to get cat litter and other provisions too expensive to buy in the Quarter. "Better do it today as tomorrow we'll be really screwed!" As we walked towards the Treme and saw a long queue of cars being directed by the po-po out of the Treme — cars searching and failing to find parking — we reassessed our ambition as one perhaps too lofty for the current climate. No way would we give up our precious parking spot. (It occurs to me now we could have scalped it and made a tidy sum.) Plus, the idea of having to drive right past the Supadome was a thought rancid enough to curdle the very blood in one's veins.
And perhaps the most annoying thing about the
There are a couple nice things about Supabowl. Our friend Dwayne rented out his house (for a mere $200/night) and is staying with us, so that is nice. He's a good cook. (We could have rented ours out for $2,000/night, but it would require removing all the animals, and rearranging the whole damn house, not to mention our lives. This droning helicopter is suggesting to me that we might have done well to have made the effort. Ah, hindsight.)
Also, the weather is absolutely fucking wonderful. We get, like, two weeks of perfect weather a year in New Orleans. This early February, weirdly, is one of them. Perhaps it will hold through Mardi Gras. If this is the manifestation of cataclysmic global warming, I'm all for it!
To sum: rah, for your local sporting team or preferred players. Enjoy New Orleans — we need your tourist dollars. But try to remember people actually live in this "pretty little Disneyland" as well, and refrain from micturating your steaming, colorless urine upon the properties, cheers.
Addendum: Ever the intrepid reporter, I ventured into the trenches to bring you these battlezone shots. I was actually dismayed that it was a lovely day, things aren't as bad as I thought, and there was a spring in my step. Imagine. Me. With a spring. In my step. I know, right?
I mean, it's still douchey out there, don't get me wrong.
We'll start with Bourbon St., which is looking very douchey today, but what's new there?
( NOW WITH PHOTOS!Collapse )
It's like a birthday. Or Christmas. It comes once a year. But instead of happy anticipation for the coming holiday, it takes a zen-like summoning of one's serene core (always assuming one has a serene core), or a cocktail of seratonin inhibitors, opiods and tranks, before embarking upon the adventure. And instead of exchanging presents, fusty paperwork, ID cards, and little forms are shuffled about from person to person. So it's really not like a birthday or Christmas at all. Je m'excuse.
Perhaps it's like visiting the principal's office — in the 1970s when adults could still hit little kids. And whatever wrongdoing landed you in that musty, faux-wood-paneled office with the sturdy, weather-beaten yardstick leaning ominously in the corner flies out of your mind as the terror of the forthcoming corporal punishment seeps out of your pores. You don't think, "I'll never do [insert whatever crime you were indicted for here] again." You think, "I'll never do anything bad, ever again! Just to be on the safe side, I'll never do anything! Period! I'll sit still and straight and not talk to anyone ever and eat my peas and oh god, I'll even be nice to my little brother just please get me out of here!"
Like a perverse perennial flower that blooms only in the dead of January, mocking nature Herself with its obscene and diseased stamen, if you live in the French Quarter of New Orleans, you'll need to renew that damned Zone 2 parking sticker in the New Year.
Happy fucking birthday. Now bend over and take your medicine.
I still have vivid flashes of last year's pilgrimage to the parking authority offices, in grainy black and white and a jittering frame, like a murder montage in a B-horror film. I cannot recall exactly what transpired, but there are isolated moments branded into my cerebral cortex.
I had come prepared with every piece of necessary (and many un-) paperwork that could possibly be required of me. Ms. Stubfingers still found some pedantic flaw in the pile of dull papers I offered her. I can't remember exactly what was missing, for we tend to block out traumatic experiences like childbirth, Gulf War syndrome, and renewing a Zone 2 New Orleans parking pass. Perhaps it was that I didn't have two utility bills. Or perhaps one of them was last month's. Whatever the cause, you cannot help but notice a subcutaneous smile of satisfaction when the legion of misshapen women get to say their favorite word: "NO!"
Yesterday was a beautiful January day in New Orleans. 67°f, azure skies, a dry breeze. Since there's no parking at or near the parking permit office (which in itself sets the absurd scene for how this place works), I decided to bike downtown. The fifteen minute ride would also give the fistful of pills I had taken time to kick in.
I locked my bike to a pole, extracted the sheaf of papers, and took a zen moment to find my Center. My Happy Place. My Zone (2). I repeated a mantra, "Like water off a duck's back, I will suffer the slings and arrows of The Women Who Say 'NO!' with equanimity. No one will pierce my armor of tranquility. I will keep a pleasant smile on my face, a pleasant tone in my voice, and be the change I seek."
On the eighth floor, I took a sip of water from the drinking fountain. Water cleanses — purifies — after all. Or, I tried to take a drink of water. When the button was depressed, a stream of water overshot the fountain drain and sent a well-aimed deluge directly into a live electrical socket on the wall.
I chuckled at Fate's ill attempt to thwart me, or electrocute me, before I had even reached the first office, sucked in a bolstering breath and sallied forward.
"Hello!" I said cheerily to the woman with wedding cake hair sitting behind the first window. "I'm here to renew my parking pass."
After a while, she looked up from her Oprah magazine, took me in with a cold, disapproving gaze and pointed to a scrap of paper that had been poorly taped to the counter listing requisite bits of bureaucratic proof one must bring to this appointment. "You got all dem papers?" she asked tapping the sheet. Her tone implied that seldom few ever did, and it was her pleasure to send anyone away with their tails between their legs if an item was missing.
"Yup! Sure do!" I said perkily.
She shot me a look of incredulity. "Give 'em here."
I handed over a driver's license, car registration, and a utility bill (current), all within their expiration dates, and all claiming the same French Quarter address, with what I hoped was an easygoing smile of camaraderie. "We're all in this together, sister," is what I tried to convey.
She looked up again, eyes squinting suspiciously as if I were some perp trying to pull off a con. "I gonna need a lease or a tax bill," she said, and was that a subtle note of vindication I heard in her voice? Why yes, I believe it was!
This was a new requirement — they change requirements every year, ensuring that The Women Who Say 'NO!' would always have a legitimate reason to do so. I had thought of bringing the tax bill I had just paid, but it was in my husband's name, so thought it would be useless. Instead I proffered a mortgage statement for our rental house with my name and mailing address, hoping she wouldn't notice the small print that said it was a mortgage for another property. My reasoning for bothering to bring that statement at all was, "Well, they may be pedantic, but they're also stupid."
She pored over the mortgage statement and my heart sank expecting a jubilant "NO!" to soon be uttered. "Be stupid. Be stupid," I willed her silently.
When I find myself in a situation that is beyond my control, or when I am cornered, insecure, or frightened (and I often am one or many of these things), I begin singing, just barely audibly, the song that the evil dead preacher sang in POLTERGEIST 2: "God is innnnn…his holy temmm…ple…" I don't know why I do this, but I always have.
I began that refrain now as the fate of the rest of my day hung in those tense moments.
"Awright. Go sit in dat office and fill out doze foams. Dere should be a pen on the table." She had missed the small print showing a non-French Quarter address.
Yesssss! I thought. She bought it! I felt dirty and criminal as if I were trying to get away with something I had no right to attempt, but then, that's the air of the room, isn't it. "Everyone's Up To Something, And We'll Find You Out!" should have read a sign on the wall.
I filled out my forms and handed them back. With reluctance, she signed off on them. I tried a gambit of social interaction, asking if she knew when today's Mardi Gras Krewes would roll, and where. "Afternoon," she said and added, "Uptown," picking up her 'O' magazine once again and waving me away to the next office.
At the drinking fountain, I checked the hall to make sure it was empty and turned on my camera phone. I pressed the water button and the shutter button simultaneously as another minion of the parking authorities suddenly appeared behind me.
"You takin' pitchers of dat water fountain!" she barked.
I jumped, blurring my photo, and said lamely, "Uh, no, I was just, uh, reading a text. Golly. Look at this thing. It's shooting water straight into the electrical socket."
The woman eyed me like a criminal, shifted her gaze to my phone, then back to my face. Finally she deigned to opine, "Dis city be all messed up," and continued down the hallway.
In the second office, I was glad to see that Jabba the Hovering Hut was not at the desk in her white robe, cackling like a witch at the ceiling. Things were really going my way today!
I approached the bullet proof glass and the woman at that station was innocent of scramp poboys. Or french fry poboys or fried erster poboys or any other large food items that could be used as oral ammo as she spoke to me.
I slipped the woman my paperwork. She turned around and mumbled something to the wall. Then spun and stared at me expectantly.
"I'm sorry?" I said, smile faltering, but still there dammit. "I … uh … couldn't hear you?" She threw daggers at me from her eyes. "There's this … uh … thick glass between us?" I added spuriously.
"I SAID," she said, "how you goan PAY fo dis!?"
"Oh. Card," I said, sliding a Visa through the slot.
"I gonna need some ID with dat," she said and pursed her lips in a how-do-you-like-me-NOW? manner. (If pressed for an answer, I would have had to say I did not like her very much at all, thank you.)
"Certainly," I said, smile still holding, but just barely. My serene inner core had taken just about as much erosion as it could for one day.
She sat at her computer and beeped and booped for a minute. Then she mumbled something else to the wall, waited a tick, and spun around expectantly again.
"Oh. Um. Sorry. Still can't hear you," I said. "The glass."
"I SAID," she said, "you got a camera ticket on yo' car!"
The camera ticket had been sent several weeks ago in error. I had written a letter of contention the previous week, but nothing had been processed yet, it seemed. I knew that she'd take the fact that I had the audacity — the temerity — the grapes to even try to fight a robot ticket as reason enough to say her favorite word: "NO!" So instead I mumbled, "Oh yah. I … uh … paid that three days ago. Must not've got the check yet."
She pondered that with squinting, suspicious eyes for a few moments ("Be stupid! Be stupid!"), then, to my utter surprise, spun back around to the computer and continued booping and beeping.
Heh. "I paid it three days ago." Puh-leeze. Three days ago, I was at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris with my husband, soaking up some of the most beautiful art in the world. I closed my eyes and took a little memory vacation back to France. My armor was almost translucent. One more slight tap to it and I felt certain I'd get all Ike Turner up in dat piece.
Again, under my breath, I sang, "God is innnnnn…his holy temmm…ple."
She came to the bulletproof glass and slipped two visitors passes through the slot and explained: "Dis one be yo visitor's pass."
She seemed to be waiting for some kind of response. "The one that says 'VISITOR'?" I asked and she scowled.
"Dis one be fo yo car." It also said 'VISITOR'.
"What happened to the sti…"
"We don't do the stickers no mo!" she explained cryptically and stared at me, daring me to rub up against her … grille? Is that what one rubs up against in such contentious situations?
"Hmm," I said, not wanting to tape a relatively large piece of paper in my windshield for the whole year. "Why'd they stop the stickers?"
She rolled her eyes. In what sounded like one like word she said, "I-dunno-must-be-too-'spensive-or-some-s
"Well that's interesting," I said, "since two years ago it cost $25 for the pass and the sticker, and now it's $55 — more than double, right? — and they can't afford the stickers?"
She looked at me as if I had just spoken Swedish to her.
"NEXT!" she shouted through the glass.
The best, and rarest kind of film is the kind that you watch, sit and think about when it's over, try to figure out if you loved it or hated it, then find that three days later you're still thinking about it, which means, ipso facto, that you loved it.
Take the splatter B-film SIMON SAYS, 2006, starring Crispin Glover, available on the Netflix streamy-thingie, and added to my queue blindly, because I was in a horror film mood, and Crispin's my dream man.
Twenty minutes into the film, I thought, Christ, this film is awful!, and I walked away from it for a bit.
The nature of its awfulness drew me back, since it was so terrible, I thought it might fall into that wonderful rare category mentioned above.
What we've got at the opening is the standard 80s slasher flick setup: mismatched high school kids in their 30s headed for the woods for a debauch; creepy gas station attendant and small town folks being creepy, creepily; flashbacks that should serve as exposition but are so garbled and affected it's really just the director's moment to shine as an art film dropout. Oh, and fog machines.
This is so cliché, I thought, groaning at the motivation and lines from the "teens," all suspiciously beautiful and half undressed even in the van. But maybe it's supposed to be cliché! I dared to hope. It is, after all, a Crispin Glover film, and his strength is that you can never really tell if he's kidding or not. Just ask David Letterman.
When watched through those rose-tinted glasses, the film suddenly became a sparkling gem.
To call the characters two-dimensional is an insult to a square. As we meet the kids driving to the woods to "pan for gold," (not joking) in the stoner's VW van so plastered with hippie stickers it can only be farce, they pontificate, "What if we do strike it rich?" which leads to informative glimpses into each personality.
They pull over to an abandoned gas station, meet Crispin who Crispins it up for them, freaking the kids out, meet some local gravediggers who warn them about the murders and urge them to turn around…
…does this sound familiar? Not in a general way, but in a specific way? Ever seen CABIN IN THE WOODS, that brilliant love letter to the 80s slasher flick genre, which blatantly names each of the five archetype "teens" like this?
Well, Act I of CABIN is a direct homage to Act I of SIMON, which is an homage to the classic genre of non-camp films in the 80s.
The kills in SIMON really are imaginative. Pickaxe catapults, death by Fattie, poodle-stomping, and believe it or not, the human CD player. To up the body count, we stumble nonsensically upon some paintball warriors in the woods who serve as gore material, and there's lots of it.
I kept pausing the film to read "reviews" (mostly by trolls screaming, "THIS MOUIE IS AWEFULL!") I wondered if anyone else was seeing what I was seeing — a well done, thinly-veiled spoof. A few people got it; the unwashed masses missed the point, in their usual unwashed way. Crispin's tarted-up, over the top redneck accent is so unbelievably bad that it just has to be on purpose. There's no other credible explanation.
In fact the whole film is so unbelievably bad (yet shot so gorgeously) that, after some deliberation, I've decided I love it — perhaps because I initially hated it. And that is the rarest, most delightful kind of film.
I had a late screening last night of a film I worked on. HusBen had an early wake-up call for jury duty, so before I left the house and he went to bed, he asked me to, "Text me where the car's parked so I won't have to wake you up in the morning."
A sweet thought, I thought. It was hard to stifle a smile though — I know how these things work out. Ben's attempts at quietude invariably make him louder, and the more carefully he tries for order, the more entropy erupts. I don't think Anne Frank would have had the chance to write in her diary as much as she did if Ben had been holed up with them in their attic cupboard in Amsterdam. The Nazis would have hit that house first for all the chaos emitting from it.
I was kind of looking forward to seeing (or hearing, pardon me) what would happen this morning, for it's a rare occurrence that I'm not the first one awake, and I find my darling's solicitous attempts at courtesy high-fucking-larious. So I was a little disappointed when his shower was uneventful. I was vaguely aware through the haze of sleep that there was someone taking a shower. I waited expectantly for the shower mirror to come crashing down, or a slip-and-fall episode followed by a spate of cursing, or something! Sorely let down. I resigned myself with a disheartened sigh to sleeping in.
In retrospect, I'm guessing it may have been the aerosol deodorant that eventually set it off, though I wouldn't testify to that in court. Our fire alarms sometimes go off for reasons unfathomable. They're all tied together, so when one goes off, they all go off, emitting an ear-piercing bleep! in every room of the house. "Here we go!" I thought with tired glee.
"Shit!" I heard my cherished mutter from somewhere in the front of the house as he went into the laundry room to get the broomstick, knocking over a clatter of god-knows-what in the process, which resulted in another, "Goddammit!"
This is gonna be good, I thought.
The first tricky bit about our fire alarm system is that to turn off the screaming bleep! you have to use a wobbly broomstick to tap the small button on the apparatus affixed to the underside of the twelve food ceiling — a long way up. Like the old game Operation, it takes a very steady hand. Ben's not too clumsy — except when he's trying not to be clumsy — so the 'Operation' was a failure and the broomstick stabbed impotently at the ceiling: thump, thump, thump.
The second tricky thing about the system set up, and the part that can be really annoying, is that only the fire alarm that first sensed the potential threat can turn the others off! Usually it's the one in the kitchen, reacting to blackened chicken smoke that didn't go up the vent hood, or something else obvious. But on those occasions where the things go off for no discernible reason, you have to wander the house with the broomstick, hitting every button until you find the right sensor.
In my half-awake/half-asleep state, I followed Ben around the house by listening from where the next clunking stabbing of the broomstick came, and the inevitable, "Shit. Goddammit. Fuck." It seemed to my dazed mind that he must have hit every fire alarm button in the house — twice — and the thing was still going off.
"This is a particularly beautiful attempt to leave the house quietly," I thought happily as I pulled the blankets over my ears to muffle the screaming bleep! I relaxed to 'watch' the show.
What seemed like 40 minutes later, I took pity on my poor husBen and went to turn off the fire alarm. I had noted that if he had hit every room in the house to no avail, then he probably forgot there was one in my back-back office, next to the bathroom and, thus, the aerosol deodorant. I got up, went to my office with the lowest ceiling in the house, pushed the little button with my finger, and the house fell into silence once more. Ben was in the front of the house stabbing willy-nilly at walls, cupboards, cats, who knows what else. I don't think he ever knew why the alarm shut off.
"Good show, good show," I silently applauded Ben as I crept back into bed and closed my eyes. But the show must, and did, go on.
It was time to dress. To dress, one must first extract clothes from the bureau. Ben's bureau is about as old as he is, but not in quite as fine shape. On a good day, pulling the drawer open causes a squeal of pain from the sad old wood. It's a little loud, but over quickly. Ben knows this, of course, so tries to do it quietly when I'm asleep. Which, as you could probably guess, causes the squeal of pain to turn into an elongated howl of agony and wrenches of desperation as the frame of the drawer shifts to the diagonal, and you have to 'walk' the drawer out, wiggling it back and forth: screech! squeal! crunch! choke! scrape! Oh, that's not the drawer containing the clothing you were looking for? Better shut it again, but for god's sake do it quietly! Push. Squeal. Crunch. Squeak. Crash. Ben deflects attention from the agonized bureau by muttering of a stream of cursing over the sound effects. The louder the drawer, the louder the litany.
Next drawer, same thing.
Third verse, same as the first.
Oh wait, I guess the socks were in the top drawer. Back to one, from the top, people. Take two!
Squeal! Crunch! Scrape! Break!
Of course I'm wide awake now, and trying hard not to laugh. It's important to continue to feign sleep for a couple reasons: I don't want to hurt his feelings, and by faking sleep I like to think I'm giving him the illusion of being quiet. As if, after setting off the fire alarm for an hour and a half and prying the bureau open with a crowbar and hammer, he can still think, "Well, Todd's asleep. It's a job well done I guess! Damn I'm good! Stealthy, even! I'm Ninja-Ben!" But more important than my one-and-only's pride is my own sustained amusement — the moment it is perceived I'm awake, the attempts to be quiet will surcease, and actual quiet will recommence. And that's no fun!
This morning's show wound down to a rather anticlimactic end, with just the usual minor scuffs and bangs and expletives following Ben out the door. I began writing my theatre review in my blanket-covered head: "Despite a deflated ending, I have to give this play a big ole thumbs-up for its surprising opening alone. Act I rivaled some of his better works to date, like his world renewed classic thriller, 'Emptying the Dishwasher'. What theatre-goer can forget the shocking cacophony of smashing dishes and the poetic carpet of obscenities woven throughout that masterpiece? That play won seven Tonys…"
I was drifting off to sleep when an ambulance screamed by the house, jarring me awake again. In my mind I reopened my review and amended it: "Retraction! When I complained about Act II's less-than-noteworthy ending, I hadn't anticipated the twist at the end! In a stroke of absolute genius the likes of which this reviewer had never anticipated, the playwright dazzled the audience by deliberately getting into an automobile accident on the next block, throwing in the howl of cops and EMTs to close the farce, inevitably to the roar of a standing house, crying, 'Author! Author!' and throwing Tiffany's diamonds onto the stage!"
I fell back asleep, smiling, loving my husBen for taking the trouble to wreck the car and perhaps harm himself for my amusement. I'll never find another like him, I sighed happily as I fell back into slumber.
Then the construction site at Krayzee Kornurzz next door began. A band saw's whine, its abrupt cut-off, and a howled line of, "Fuck! Godammit! Give me the … fuckin' … three-quarter-inch … it's RIGHT FUCKIN' THERE, DAMMIT! Fuckin' … fuck …"
They try, Krayzee Kornurzz'zz Kooky Konstruction Krewe, every morning, to put on a good show, but really, no one can follow my Ben, who shall forever remain the love of my life.
I came across some old “Bar Libs” I made for Leila, Candace and the krewe at Lounge Lizards back-in-the-day. You should do one and post it somewhere. They’re fun.
My name is Mosquito.
I would like to apply for a job as a shoe shine boy at Lounge Birds.
I used to hang out at The Hot Danish Pastry back in the day. Maybe you remember me? I am 9,999,999.99 feet tall and have precise eggshell hair that I usually tie up in a heart failure. I wear mincing clothes that make me look more teetering than I really am. My boots are always droll, but most people know me by my unique tongue piercings, which really define my style.
Candace used to kick me out for bathing at the bar. There was a picture of me on the Laundry Chute of Shame where Rufus and I were ignoring smorgasbords.
I've been with my parents in Minsk for a year recovering from a Flintstone’s multivitamin problem I had, but no more of that! I'm unforseeable!
I used to work at Harrah's casino as a bean counter but I got fired for forgetting at work one too many times. But they'll still give me a good reference.
I can work any hours between 88 and zero o'clock.
I love your bar because it's so scarred! All my bereft friends would totally come see me on my shifts.
My drink specialties are a super-fuscia-headed baby, which is a shot of Bailey's with a splash of placenta goo and served weeping. Also, Marcy gave me her secret recipe for a vermillion mother-tugger, which are always a hit.
If you hire me, I promise I won't blossom the customers or gestate on the job.
Leila, you have got to hire me! I'll take anything! I'll even be your forensic pathologist! I really need a job bad because my landlord is threatening to peep me next month!
Call me! Jusqu'à la prochaine!
I have a filter on my web browser that suppresses certain kinds of responses from the public in the comments of a YouTube page, an Amazon review, and other places where the Unwashed Masses are given free reign to pollute the web with bad spelling, excessive punctuation, and general stupidity. While I appreciate the work this filter does, sparing my sore eyes and sad brain from being accosted by the insipid utterings of the nearly-retarded, I do take umbrage at the filter's name: “Comment Snob”.
It bothers me that having standards — almost any set of standards — will result more often than not in accusations of 'snobbery' or 'elitism' and other la-di-dah pejoratives on the web and in real life, though in the latter case it's generally not said to one's face.
When did it become a crime to bring up a serious topic in the World At Large, or pose a question to which there may not be an answer, but that would spawn an intelligent conversation? I'm sorry, too lofty? Too 'snobby'? What about a simple exchange of ideas? Even this tepid goal, attainable by the dimmest of dullards, is on the decline. Need an example? It's an election year. How many people on one side or the other actual listen to an opponent's idea and give it its just day in court? I'm not just talking about internet trolls, but even people within your own life — people to whom you would not think to apply the word 'stupid'? And yet their minds are closed to unfamiliar processes and ideas.
Why is it abnormal to challenge oneself? Why is it read as a sign of weakness to question oneself? I'm very suspicious of people who claim to know anything beyond the shadow of a doubt. People who have cemented convictions in such slippery subjects such as religion, politics, and your more squirmy ethical dilemmas may deduct 25 points off their I.Q. on general principle. The audacity of 'knowledge' — bah!
Conversely, I don't think we as a society are treating deliberate stupidity with quite enough firmness and disapproval. Of course it's hilarious to scan the nominees of the Darwin Awards, watch any movie with Adam Sandler in it, or marvel at the nadir of intelligence and taste encapsulated in Honey Boo Boo. I'm not suggesting we do away with enjoying some good ole' stupidity from time to time. Life is a buffet, and creme puffs are delicious! But so is, say, turkey, and it's probably a bad idea to eat more sugary pastries than a protein-rich meat.
Did you see one of the more recent South Park episodes that dealt with Lowering The Bar, and focused, incidentally, on Honey Boo Boo and her popularity, and exalted her as a spokesmodel of what's entertaining? It was pretty insightful, actually. Go look for it if you missed it. (Let's not even think of how sad it is that South Park is a more reliable moral compass than, say, network news.) The episode lamented how low our standards have sunk this century, and then asked the question, "But what can I DO about it?" It's easy and cathartic to bitch and rant on a silly blog on the silly internet about how dumbed-down the country has become, but once the catharsis has faded away, the next logical step would be to ask, "What can I DO about it?"
Probably not much. I'm just a little person, a bug on the face of the planet, scuttling about my little life as are most of us. Just having the ability to leave a YouTube comment in full grammatical sentences does not make me a great intellect. I'm reasonably intelligent, sure, but susceptible to the over-saturation of Stupid with which we are confronted thousands of times a day, from sub-standard music, to television (particularly 'reality' shows), to political rhetoric and speeches written so those who dropped out of fifth grade can sorta understand, to the constant stream of advertisements that bombard us at every turn. Not watching the news is a great way to hack off a lot of the fat, but I still live in this country. And use the internet. I've allowed myself to accept the level of Stupid I've been presented with.
Key phrase: I've allowed myself…
It's time to wean off Stupid, mes frères, mes sœurs! Listen to my proposition. Don't worry, you're not going cold turkey. You can still have your Jersey Shore or whatever your guilty pleasure is (and if it's such a 'guilty' pleasure, shouldn't you try and keep it on the DL instead of wearing it as an ironic badge?).
For every minute you spend reading, hearing, watching, consuming something Stupid, you must spend an equal number of minutes reading, watching, doing, making, or thinking something Smart.
An equal number of minutes! I'm not even asking you to spend more time on Smart than Stupid. You still get to dive merrily into a political flame war on some retarded forum on the internet, as long as when you're through, you do something Smart — like question your own convictions that you just spewed forth on that forum — play devil's advocate — search for weaknesses in your "argument" and consider polar opposite points of view.
For every half hour of "Desperate Housewives of Wherever" that you watch, watch a half hour of Carl Sagan's NOVA, or a few of these clever presentations on TED Education.
And hey, I didn't mean to bash so hard on Honey Boo Boo. She and her awful family are important pointers to who's the lowest common denominator. So watch the travesty of Honey Boo Boo, wince at their white trash drawl, but then spend half an hour listening to your own voice, your own accent, and consider how you may be judged by others due to the cadence of your speech.
Then spend thirty minutes learning an unfamiliar language.
There are hundreds of ways we can improve ourselves every day. Education, practice of a physical craft or skill, examining our prejudices and convictions. If you're as sick to death of Stupid being the accepted status quo, the best thing you can do is to make damn sure you're not contributing to the pollution.
After all, it's the ones who think themselves the most righteous that are always the most wrongeous.
A Boy and His Dog
Since about January I've had the idea bubbling away on a back burner that I'd like to take most of August and drive backroads to my lake house in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York, just me and my dog.
Ben was not disinvited, but it's hardly his idea of a good time, weaving around small towns and ending up in my funky cottage which is crawling with, as he puts it, "little tiny scary things."
The ultimate goal was to meet Ben in New England and continue on to Provincetown on the tippy-tip-end of Cape Cod. Which is from where I now address you.
Rather than rambling on about the trip thus far, let's have us a little show n' tell, what?
( Pictorials of the strange, beautiful, sad and bizarre things one might see taking back roads.Collapse )
Have I been remiss in reporting on the refined, etiquette-driven antics of the finishing school dropouts next door at Krayzee Kornurzz? Did you think that anything has been resolved, improved or scrubbed up in any way due to my failure as a journalist? Oh ye of little cynical faith…
Just a sampling from the Krayzee Buffet then, to whet your app. These stories have all taken place within the last 48 hours, just to give you an idea of the frequency of their high jinx.
*"The Screamer" is the gentleman friend of crackwhore CINDAYYYYY!, so named for her name being screamed outside our bedroom window at 4am with annoying frequency. By The Screamer.
**So named for the pitch and timber of her voice and its close resemblance to the whine of a mosquito in one's ear. And the fact that just looking at her makes one want to slap her.
My dog was sleeping in this position recently, which looked to me like she was mid-bound across the Siberian steppe or a New Mexican mesa or something.
So I put her in those places.
That old girl gets around!
Here for your perusal, and my own reference, is…
Todd's Super-Delicious Low-Carb Egg Salad*
Of course if you're a pussy you can ixnay the jalapeño. And if you're a total pussy you can forgo the raw garlic, but you're off my Xmas card list if you do.
I'm on Atkins at the moment, and this is fully compliant, assuming you don't put it on bread. It's delicious enough to eat with a fork out of a bowl though.
While it's sad to have egg salad not on toasted rye (or whatever bread you prefer to make a sandwich), it's sadder not to have any egg salad at all.
*NOTE: This recipe works well for chicken salad also! Simply swap out the eggs for 3 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped into small cubes.
On Friday as I opened my bar at 8:00 as usual, my phone rang. It was my friend Pamela. "Look at the moon!" she bade. I walked around the bar and tapped Taylor, one of my favorite regulars and the first one in the bar, who had just told me about a fight he had had with Matt, another regular and Taylor's good friend. I'd never known the two to fight. It was a little surreal to hear about, quite honestly.
Look, I'm not superstitious by nature, but in my long history of bartending there are two eerie things that can affect the night, and both are far more Mulder than Scully.
They began their summit meeting with a cautious handshake, which I took as a good sign, and went back into the bar, thinking like I always do that maybe my Superstition #2 was unfounded. (I often attempt to disbelieve this anomaly, and I am constantly saddled with more evidence to its veracity.)
And regarding Superstition #1, had I known there was a full moon to compound the issue, I might have just closed the bar then and avoided what was sure to be an off-kilter night.
Back in the bar, I found that a dirty man whom I quietly named Gristle McGrizzlepants had come in. Taylor and Matt followed shortly and seemed to be on the mend. I went to G McG to see what he wanted.
"Hey man, how ya doin'?" he asked, extending one filthy hand across the bar. I eyed it warily, noting grit under the nails, cakes of dirt on the palm, and wondered not for the first, third or hundredth time, why is it the filmy, nasty people are the ones who want to touch you the most? And they will not give up; if you do not return the handshake, their diseased limb hangs there like a fart in an elevator and their eyes turn puppy-sad and puppy-hurt that you're not returning the bonhomie they wish to share with you.
"I'm fine," I said, interlocking my fingers behind my back. "Can I get you something?"
"How 'bout a handshake?" he pressed the point. God, they just do not give up!
To move the unpleasant situation along, I gave his hand a brief squeeze. It was dry and sandpapery. I then walked immediately to the nice, clean, scalding water in my dish sink and disinfected.
"How bout a PBR, man?" Gristle asked.
"No prob," I said drying my hands, popping one open and pushing it across the bar to him.
"Thanks man. Gimme a punch," he said, making a fist and waving it obscenely in my face. I made a fist, bumped his knuckles and disinfected my hands again, which were still smarting from the scalding water of a moment ago.
"That'll be $2," I said. He brought out a wad of bills, crumpled and equally leprous as his hand. I thought, and why is it these people never have a wallet, but keep their money wadded up in little spitballs and reeking like it's been marinating in ass?
I took the money, ironed it flat on the edge of the bar, squirted it with disinfectant, wiped it down with napkins and put it in the drawer at the bottom of the $1's so I wouldn't have to touch them again for awhile.
"And here's a dollar tip for you," he announced magnanimously, pulling out another spitball dollar.
I winced and grimaced, "Thaaaaanks," took the dollar, and put it through the same routine as before. Then I washed my hands again.
"You know Adem?" he said, mentioning my co-worker.
"Of course," I said, shooting a glare at Taylor and cursing his weird fight for tainting my night.
"I work with him over at the deli."
I've ordered delicious sandwiches from that deli. With horror I thought, you touch the food?!?
John and Mitch came in. Two better people are hard to find. They're a lovely couple who often come to see me and my night is brightened by their presence without fail. I poured them their Abitas and immediately unloaded my worries on their sympathetic ears, explaining Superstition #2.
"…so while the night didn't start off with a bum coming in asking for a glass of water and a book of matches, which is the WORST first interaction to have as that will murder any business I expected to do that night, Taylor and Matt's fight just isn't sitting well with me, and McGrizzlepants over there has only cemented my unease. You two aren't going to be … weird … or anything … are you?"
Then shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders.
"Thank you," I sighed audibly.
The night went on. People came and went. Not everyone was creepy, but everyone was a little … off … often in intangible ways that would be difficult to call them out on. Like ordering something and using a strange word in a common phrase: "Could I take a beer?" or "How much is a drink of well?" After a dozen or so iterations of this I felt like I had stepped into an alternate reality where people walk and talk like earthlings … sorta, but so much left me scratching my head.
A guy came in, tall, twenties, clean and well-spoken. "I'd like a whisky and ginger please," he said without swapping in any strange words or rearranging basic grammar. It was almost as strange to hear someone speaking normally in this alternate universe, so accustomed had I become to everyone's Martian translation to English.
He picked up his drink, turned around, and immediately dropped it on the floor.
He turned back to me with a face eerily devoid of shame, remorse or apology. "I dropped my drink," he added uselessly. "Guess I need another one."
I blinked bovinely at him, poured him another and set it down. He brought out more money to pay for it. I waved him off. "Um, it's okay," I said, then fled back down to John and Mitch who occupied the space at the bar that I had come to think of as my Safe Zone. They really were a last link to a sane world I felt had left me.
The bar filled up. People came and went with varying degrees of off'ness. One guy I had poured a vodka tonic for came back and put his glass on the bar. "There are spiders in my drink," he said. I looked in the glass. Clear vodka and tonic.
"I don't see any spiders," I said.
"Oh. They must have crawled out. Could I have another one please?"
I poured him another, refusing his money in reverence of his utterly original line. He thanked me and left a dollar. I put it in my box.
Gristle McGrizzlepants was sitting next to Matt and Taylor, who were chums again, I noted with relief. Maybe their newly-reclaimed friendship would erase Superstition #2 that had cursed my night. Yah right. It doesn't work that way, does it.
"I'd like to get this guy another beer," said Gristle, pointing to Matt. I shrugged and got his beer. Gristle pulled out three more wadded up filth-dollars. "Keep one for yourself," he announced loudly and glanced about to make sure everyone heard he was tipping."
"Um, thanks," I said, ironing, spraying and wiping the money.
"Hey thanks man," said Gristle, presenting his odious limb once again for a handshake. I fled back to my Safe Zone and showed John and Mitch a tweet I had made an hour earlier. "See if you can guess who this is about," I said, handing my phone over to them.
Why is it only the filthy-looking people at my bar want to shake my hand? And when I refuse they won't give up.They answered my challenge correctly.
Another gristly man came in and sat down and ordered something, I couldn't hear what. I asked him to repeat himself. He muttered something inaudible. I cupped my ear and said over the not-very-loud music, "Louder please?"
"A Guinness," he said.
I gave Mr. Mumbles his Guinness. He gave me a credit card. "Keep this open?" he said.
"Sure," I said, looking at the name. "Can I call you Ace, or do you prefer your surname, Mr. Customer?" I asked. He winked mysteriously. Gristle leaned over the bar and extended his hand at me. I fled back to John and Mitch.
My old friend Rory came in with his friend Melinda. I had met her once before under the same circumstances: with Rory, in my bar, she was already drunk, it was her birthday. This was about four months ago, I approximated.
"It's my berfdy!" she slurred loudly at me.
"Honey, if you're going to have three birthdays a year, you're going to age before your time!" I told her. She was confused by this. Rory corrected me: it had been a year since I saw her last. I apologized and got them their drinks.
I handed Melinda her drink and she smiled. "You really need to wash your hair," she cooed.
"Well that's a lovely thing to say to someone out of the blue!" I said and fled back to my Safe Zone. I heard Rory explaining to her why that's not a good conversational opener.
I picked up a dollar off the bar and put it in my box. There was a little spider on the top bill. I squished it.
Gristle came up to me, "Hey man, can ya do me a favor?"
Not if it involves touching you in any way, I didn't say.
"What's that?" I asked skeptically.
"Could you put this on ice for me?" He handed me a huge can of Natural Light, which makes PBR a rich, nutty ale by comparison. The can of beer was wrapped wetly in a once-white paper sack. Absolutely revolting.
"SERIOUSLY!?" I said, gesturing towards the ghetto beer. "I mean … SERIOUSLY!?"
"What?" Gristle asked, eyes wide with not-getting-it'ness. Some of my regulars around him started snickering.
"You're going to not only bring a drink into my bar, but ask me to chill it for you?" I asked, incredulous. That's not the right word; nothing tonight was incredulous.
"Is that bad?" he asked, stung. "C'mon man. I bought two beers. I even tipped you!" he said as if that were a huge deal, which I'll allow probably was for him.
My friends were laughing outright now. I rolled my eyes and took the beer. I cannot tell you why. It had something to do with not fighting the night, but just getting through it. It was a survivalist manœuvre. I peeled the nasty paper bag off the beer, sank the beer in the hot soapy water. Drained the sink, wiped the beer clean and buried it in the ice.
Melinda shouted apologies at me. I waved and smiled and rolled my eyes.
In the corner I saw Spiderman, swatting at spiders on his shirt.
Mr. Mumbles called me over. "This Guinness is off," he said, pushing it towards me. "Could I have a rum and orange juice instead?"
"Sure," I sighed.
I was worried for a sec because I had been serving car bombs to my regulars. I poured a bit of Guinness and tasted it. It was fine. I wasn't surprised.
My phone rang. "Is … [mumbled name] there?"
"No, you have the wrong number." I was about to hang up when the woman on the other end said, "But he called from this number. This is his aunt."
I did a double take and remembered an episode from earlier in the week at the Circle Bar where I went to see my friend play a gig.
I was sitting outside having a cigarette and texting friends to arrange doings for later when a semi-scraggly but not totally homeless white guy came up to me and asked if he could call his aunt.
Uncharacteristically I said yes, finished my text and handed him my phone.
"Is it ringing?" he asked.
"Um, no," I replied. "I don't know your aunt's number."
He rattled off the numbers. I punched them in and handed him the phone. It went to voicemail. He hung up and handed it back to me.
"Could I, uh, try that number again? Sometimes she doesn't answer on the first try."
"Yah sure, whatever," I said and hit redial. It went to voicemail again.
"Hey, it's [mumbled name]. I just got in at the bus station. The police interfered. Find me." He handed the phone back to me. I took it, eyes wide.
"Can I ask you a favor?" he said.
"You already did," I said, going back into the bar. He tried to follow me but the door guy stopped him with a cover charge.
His aunt. Sure. Whatever, I thought. But here she was several nights later calling me on the most skewed night imaginable.
"I don't know him. He just borrowed my phone," I said in disbelief to the apocryphal aunt.
"Well if you see him, tell him [mumbled instructions]."
"I'll be sure to do that," I said and hung up.
I realized that this night was an exceptional example of Superstition #2, and grabbed a notepad and jotted down notes to mull over later.
"Wotcha doing? Writing in your diary?" asked John. (I had, of course, wandered back to my Safe Zone.)
"Actually, that's exactly what I'm doing," I said.
Melinda grabbed me and twisted my wonky, painful spine towards her. "I'm really sorry about earlier," she said.
Gristle called me over. "So was it really a bad thing to ask you to ice my beer?" he asked.
"Let me put it this way," I lectured. "Would you walk into a restaurant with food and ask the cook to heat it up for you?"
"Ummm…" he pondered the hypothetical seriously. "I … don't know…"
I stared at him stonily. He held out his caked hand. "I'm sorry man."
"I. Don't. Want. To. Touch. You. You're Dirty." I said and gave him his now-cold can of beer and shooed him away.
Mr. Mumbles asked to close his tab. I ran his card. He tipped 8%, then ordered another rum and orange. "Can I just run this one drink on this card?"
I rolled my eyes and was about to go into my standard $10 minimum routine, then remembered not to fight the night, and ran the card for $5.
He smiled, scribbled on the receipt and said, "I tipped ya last time, my friend!" waved cheerily and left.
I picked up his credit card slip and noticed he had very specifically written a zero on the tip line, but, being a nice, upstanding guy who bethought me his 'friend', had turned it into a peace sign. I filed it away without another thought — it would take a lot of bizarre to turn my head at this point.
Melinda called more apologies.
Midnight finally came around. I finished my end-of-shift chores. I had a drink with John and Mitch and —not so much bitched, but … regaled the off-kilter events of the evening. I thanked them for being impervious to the weirdness and helping me to keep my sanity. I wanted my husBen who was in Munich, and I told John how lucky they were to be together.
"Wait, you think…" John sputtered. "You think Mitch and I are together!?"
"Well …" I was stunned, "…yah! I mean … aren't you?" I had known them a fairly long time and always assumed. They were always together. Their bar tabs were always together. They could communicate with each other with facial expressions.
John told Mitch my misunderstanding. He laughed. "Dude! We're not together! We're not even gay!"
I admit my gaydar is weak on the best of days, and broken most days, but sometimes you just know. I was nearly knocked off my seat with how wrong I had been all this time.
This isn't creepy, I noted. It's just … off. It's … skewed. Even my anchors of sanity had forsaken me.
I explained to them that it was a compliment, my previous assumption, and to their credit they took it as one.
I promised to start pimping them out to the single ladies at once, finished my drink, biked home, hid under the covers and wailed to the universe.
Nothing's quite as annoying as being on the west coast* and seeing homophobic twenty-somethings with fauxhawks and fitted clothing and good shoes, listening to oontz-oontz dance music and drinking cosmos. It's rude to hate the minority you're emulating.
Equally annoying are wiggers — is that term PC? Like I give a fuck.
Wiggers. You know. Racist white boys wearing gold chains, crooked baseball caps, baggy pants with the crotch at their knees, and driving tricked-out cars with spinning rims, black lights under the chassis, and sub-woofers in the trunk, the sole purpose of the latter being to set off car alarms.
The Saint, the bar I toil at for a grueling four hours a week, was established ten years ago as a Lower Garden District locals' rock-n-roll divey hangout. The reason I have kept a finger in the pie and held on to my little shift all these years is because A) it's important to pay homage to your roots, and B) the phenomenon and aura of a locals' divebar is my comfort zone. (Oh yeah, and C) I'm fucking broke.)
The Saint's clientele has changed dramatically since my halcyon days there. Around 11:30pm, my neighborhood regulars whom I love and serve with reverence depart and are replaced by hoards of Tulane and Loyola children who come for whatever band or DJ we have scheduled. I can hardly bring myself to bitch about this—the bar's a business, and my friend Benji who owns it has not only every right, but every imperative to make his business a financially successful one. However, these children are not my people, and do not constitute a sufficient draw for me to keep my job. Luckily, my shift ends at midnight, so when the place turns into Romper Room, I'm Audi 5000, baby!
Why aren't these kids "my people"? Several reasons. First and most obvious, there's the generational gap. I just don't know what to say to a 22 year old. "How was the circus this year?" or, "Have you had your tonsils out?"
I am also a Grumpy Old Man (GOM) who, if he had a lawn, and descried a passel of this species loitering upon it, would vociferate his wishes that they promptly quit the premises, said delivery being accompanied by frantic gestures with a shaking cane, most likely. So I have neither the knowledge, nor the inclination to interact with them, though I wish them no ill. (Well, except the ones who tip 8%, which is almost all of them, so I guess I do wish a mild case of cancy-wancy upon most of them.)
On my last shift as I was winding down and the kids were winding up, one boy in particular rubbed me the wrong way, and I decided to play a little game with him, because if you're not amused by the company in your proximity, then it behooves you to amuse yourself.
This plucky white boy was wearing a benumbered basketball jersey, très décollété, some humorously thick gold-plated chains, pants so baggy he seemed to be wearing diapers under them (and with a full load, judging by the lowered crotch), and an over-sized baseball cap perched at an angle neither jaunty nor rakish, but simply stupid and derivative of a culture and minority that he most likely fears and avoids.
"Yo, yo," quod the wee bairn by way of introduction, "ahkahavah pink frothy-tini with whipped cream, butterscotch drizzles, rainbow jimmies and two cherries?"**
So repellent and amusing was the specter of this child, I replied, "Sure. But, c'mere for a sec. Let me just fix something…" He leaned over the bar per my bidding, and I adjusted his askew cap. "There ya go, Scooter. Much better."
"Yo, yo!" quoth the lad in confusion and outrage, "Whazzupwiddat?"
"Sorry. I just had to fix your hat. You probably bumped into something and it was a little … off. God, how embarrassing for you! Aren't you glad I caught the problem before people saw it and perceived you as a total idiot, ha ha!"
"Yo, yo," gesticulated the boy with accompanying signing for the hearing impaired, "What the fuck, man!?"
"Well, you know," I beamed at him and assumed a conspiratorial whisper, "if my fly was down or I had spinach in my teeth, I'd hope you'd tell me. You look like an upstanding, helpful guy. I was just trying to save you from having egg of your face … by way of your hat."
"Yo, that's on purpose dawg!" wailed the boy, torn between anger and sulkiness, re-maligning his hat.
"Well then I'd say you've had enough!" I cajoled him with a chummy punch to his shoulder. "I better fix you a glass of water and sober you up, ha ha! To think, going about with a crooked cap is a good idea! Talk about impaired judgment! Oh you'll thank me in the morning, yes you will!"
"Look, I can have my drink now please?"
I erased my veneer of false cheer and gazed at him stonily, playtime over. "I'll make your girly drink if you straighten your damn hat."
A beat. Two beats. "Wait. So," the confusion scrunched up his face, "you're saying … if I don't straighten my hat … I … can't have a drink? … Is that … that right?" he asked, incredulous.
"That is exactly correct," I said.
Three beats. "Aw, nevermind dawg," he said and stomped off.
I shouted after him into the noisy din of the bar, "And get the fuck off my lawn, ya whipperschnäpper! Next?"
* This anathema is by no means indigenous to the west coast, but seems most prevalent there for some reason, especially in L.A. and L.V., though NYC certainly boasts its fair share, but without the hate.
** This may not have been exactly what he ordered. I'm trying to capture the spirit of the thing, not the cumbersome details.
My ingestion of current events is pretty much limited to stopping briefly on the walk home from Rouse's to look at the headline of the Times-Pic.
Today's headline: "Superdome roof being cleaned."
This is my favorite kind of headline because it means there's nothing they deemed more pressing (read: horrific) to breathlessly scream on their front page.
Meaning: no news IS good news.
So hey, let's make a pact, you and I. Let's agree to ONLY buy newspapers or watch major media on days that are decidedly unsensational. Ditto on The
Let's show the media moguls that it really pays to be dull and unsensational!
It's just retarded enough to work.
Sitting in my home in the French Quarter this Thursday evening, I was startled by a ubiquitous roar that seemed to come from all directions at once. I figured the Saints game must be on, and if the crowd's reaction was so boisterous, perhaps I should watch it.
Problem being, I don't think we get any TV stations. The ways of our TV are a mystery to me.
So I decided to trot down to the corner pub to watch the game there.
I poked my head in on Ryder, our friend who's staying with us, telling him my plans.
I thought Ryder would like an update on the game, so we started texting, and so was born…
Marquis Déjà Dû: There seem to be a number of gentlemen darting quickly about the lawn, and quite miffed with one another. Let me know if you'd like further play-by-play updates.After that, something exciting happened in the match and I had to betake myself away-wards with an attack of the vapors…
Lately I've had vivid, constant fantasies about finding a small cabin on some hitherto uncharted pond in Vermont where I might hole up for the winter, chopping wood, eating squirrels and knitting mutant clothing (not a very good knitter). I'm thinking Walden Pond, but less populated. I assume that just because I haven't been to Vermont, no one else has either, and there are small lakes and rustic cabins just sitting around empty. Don't burst my bubble, cheers.
On the off chance they're not currently handing out free lakeside villas in Vermont or Maine, I thought a roadtrip would be nice. An extended, aimless roadtrip that avoided impersonal interstate highways. A backroads, backwoods road trip mazing vaguely towards Vermont or Maine or Quebéc in whimsical EEG spikes. An interstate'less interstate journey. The kind of odyssey they made bad road trip movies of in the 90s or good slasher flicks in the 80s.
So this morning after I dropped husBen off at the airport, I grabbed my trusty, weathered and worn (E)VAC(U)ATION AMERICA almanac and aimed towards the first café or fast food joint on Airline Hwy. where I might sip some coffee and flip through maps of states like Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and, since they included it, Quebéc.
While the concept of such a trip was already rejuvinating my frazzled brain, the throbbing pain of a pinched sciatic nerve which is exacerbated nowhere like in the driver's seat of my car was quashing the realism of my little dream. If driving to MSY airport and back is prompting me to perform lewd acts in trucker rest stops in exchange for a Vicodin, I seriously doubted a several week snaking backroads car trip to New England would be feasible, especially since the agonizing left leg is the one responsible for the clutch, and there's a lot of shifting in tiny burgs and hamlets.
Dreams nearly shattered, but still somewhat attractive, I spotted a place to have a coffee and read my almanac. I passed a slow-moving white pickup truck and made the turn into the parking lot.
As I pulled into a space, I heard a large crash close enough that I thought for a minute that I was hit, and the only reason I wasn't feeling the impact was that I was in shock.
The crawling pickup truck I had passed awhile back had been rear ended by a sedan, the latter's front half resembling a steaming, hissing accordian.
"There but for the grace of god…" I thought, and tried to gauge the omen, if this was in fact an omen—if there were in fact any such thing as an omen.
If I hadn't passed that slow-ass truck, I would have been the one rear ended by the now-hysterical sedan women screaming and darting around a busy Airline Hwy. like a crazed rabbit. So maybe it augers well for me, and I made the right decision, and the omen says, "Yes! Go on a road trip! You are impervious! See?"
Or perhaps more likely (as omens go), the smashed car and the hyperventialting sedan woman clutching her chest as cars honked and avoided her on Airline Hwy. was telling me that perhaps cars are not very good things to spend a lot of time in just at the moment.
The woman at the counter saw my voluminous, tattered Rand McNally and asked, "Where ya goin', baby?"
"I really don't know," I replied. "Away, maybe."
"Aw, I heard dat! We all just wanna get away," she said sagely.
"Where would you go if you weren't allowed on interstates?"
She looked at me and blinked. "Dat's $3.50, honey. NEXT!"
I sat down at a window where I could watch the shuddering sedan woman kneeling and panting in the median of Airline Hwy. and began mapping my stupid, aimless, apocryphal trip, starting with Hazlehurst, Mississippi because I loved the film CRIMES OF THE HEART which is set there, and Hazlehurst is technically off the highway, and on the way to Vermont-or-wherever. Perhaps Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton and Dame Sissy would be waving at me from the roadside, I thought. Or perhaps … not. Anyway, I'm going there.
I followed the squiggliest trail I could devise to Abingdon, Virginia where I once spent an afternoon 20-odd years ago when my car broke down there. The mechanic's daughter was thrilled to play with my two parakeets who were traveling with me. ("Where you headed, son?" "L.A." "Lower Abingdon?" "Uh, no. The other one.")
Once on the New England pages I could only choose my destinations by the superficial allure of the names since I am ignorant of the geography and topography. But what a difficult game to play! To have to choose between Moxie Lake (in the shadow of Moxie Mountain), or the nearby Pleasant Pond off rural route 201, BFE, Maine. Or North Randolph, Vermont, which is south of East Brookfield, which is west of East Corinth, which is west of West Newbury, which is east of South Northfield?
It doesn't really matter. I'm not going anywhere except home to take my old-man pills for my screaming leg and left ass cheek.
Pills gobbled and pain the tiniest bit abated, my road trip dreams remained rudely intact. Realistically, I figured I could only do a day trip until (if ever?) my back healed, so I texted a friend for a mini-trip to Grand Isle or Biloxi or some place. Might do that this weekend, decrepitude and mutual schedules permitting.
WHY this mad scramble for escape? I think it's because of Alan.
Alan lives at Krayzee Kornurzz next door. I think he's the one with filthy stringy hair and a weather-battered face like a dustbowl, flyover state serial killer, but I can't be sure. I don't want to be sure. He's already taking up too much real estate in the tiny parcel of land in my mind.
Alan lives in (one of the seeming hundreds of ramshackle apartments in) the back courtyard and is the proud owner of what Ben calls the Redneck Doorbell. A Redneck Doorbell sounds like this…
“ALAN!!!! ALAN!!! HEY ALAN!!!”
…at any hour of the morning, day, afternoon, night, middle of the night, dawn, dusk, gloaming, twilight, whatever, and shouted by about three dozen
Of course it's not just the stupid neighbor, but he's the straw on my back, and there are enough straws on my back to start a pretty nice blaze.
To list, this is what I don't want any more, and why an imaginary Vermontian cabin in the woods far from humanity is such a bright and pretty beacon:
In either event, lunacy is certainly imminent. And sticky, jammy carpet.
My LJ postings are as sparse and yellowed as a lawn in Scottsdale. Sorry bout dat. You can always find me twattering away or F***booking all the live-long day. But really, have I had nothing to say over 140 characters for the last few months? Perhaps so. Perhaps not. Isn't life a mysterious box of chocolates.
It's been a rough few months over here at Chalet Manderley. My back got … broken? … or something. I don't know precisely what happened. When friends ask if there was an episode that brought it on, my only answer is, yah, I turned 40 and shit started falling to pieces.
It started like any spinal grumble, and escalated to a dull howl, and none of this is new, but then the part where the pain ebbs away and my (once-young-not-so-much-now) body fixes itself never presented itself. A dwindling supply of Vicodin and British codeine pills kept me functioning, though the constant throb of pain naturally wore down my demeanor and I became extra-super-depressed and crankypants.
After six weeks or so when I realized it wasn't going to fix itself this time, I went to a friend's chiropractor. Hadn't been to one of them since the late 90s in Philly. I always think of chiropractors as a last, violent resort when the offending condition just won't listen to reason, massage, epsom baths or vituperations.
He snapped me, and I felt great for three whole days. Got a lot of climb'y stuff done — took down the Mardi Gras décor, cleaned the gutters on the roof, did a lot of stuff that my mean ole spine wouldn't let me do weeks before.
Then a sciatic nerve got pinched in my left leg, which made the previous pain seem like an afternoon in a candy shop. Driving was difficult as my left leg hated the range of motion the clutch requires. I was hesitant to go back to the chiropractor because, while I think they're good for last resort solutions, I don't really like being snapped and cracked too often. I have no scientific basis for this hesitation; it just creeps me out.
A week or so of that sunk me even lower into the maelstrom of despair. The Husband was concerned, and we both have been complaining about our old mattress not being of sufficient quality for 40-somethings. So we went out and blew the cats' college funds on a Tempurpedic mattress, which is twice as much as any "normal" mattress, and worth far more than even that.
The sciatic nerve worked itself out, and I give credit to the new bed, and I had a good six hours of (relatively) pain-free living when my lower right muscles started spasming and charlie horsing and convulsing and basically carrying on like one of those trashy, nonsensical Jersey Shore people I've read about. "Why are you doing that? You're stupid, muscles/Jersey Shore people!"
This was the worst pain yet, and bade me make an appointment at the musicians' clinic at LSU (because the one M.D. my crappy insurance will cover is a man I really don't ever want to see again).
This time I was literally bed-ridden. Sitting up, standing, turning, twisting, or moving in any way caused the muscles in the lower right quadrant of my back to seize and scream and twist and gnash.
I was popping so many opioids that I was getting concerned about nurturing a habit, so I imposed an every-other-day rule upon myself, which meant that one day I would be horribly miserable, but at least a little fuzzy around the edges, and the next drugless day would be something only Dante could properly describe.
Wednesday I started calling coworkers to see if someone could cover me at The Saint. If getting out of bed to pee was an Herculean task, bartending was right out of the question.
"I can get through this weekend. I can get to Tuesday and my LSU appointment. I will survive this." I had lots of gritted-teeth mantras last week.
Ben flew to Vegas last week. I drove him to MSY, and as I approached the car in my hobbling gait, I looked at the door and thought, can I even get in there? And once I'm in, can I use my legs on the pedals? It was a weird awakening moment, and I began, sadly, to appreciate the daily struggles that chronic pain sufferers cope, or don't cope with. The choices they have to make. The spoon theory, in short.
I am sympathetic and empathetic by nature, but there's some stuff you can only understand when it happens to you. That moment of can I do this? as I approached the car was just such an event. I'd prefer to remain empathetic, but effectively ignorant of such knowledge next time, thanks very much.
I knew driving Ben to the æreoporte meant that I would be down for the count for the rest of the day, and probably most of the next, and even though it was an odd-numbered day which meant I couldn't take pills, I was already planning on breaking my rule.
The drive was like a scene out of the film HOSTEL. Except all the mutilation and pain and cruelty was internal, and centered in my lower right back. When I got home (after literally screaming in my car from pain and rage at douchey suburban drivers forcing me to shift gears on the highway), it took me five minutes to figure out how to get out of the car! I couldn't bend my neck through the doorway. I couldn't extend my leg. I couldn't lean to the right and slide out the door on the left. I sat there, parked in front of my house, seeing my cat through the window watching me, so close, but a hundred miles away. Flashes from S. King's book GERALD'S GAME replayed in my head.
Somehow I escaped my Toyota prison — I kinda blacked out and don't remember how — and spent the next 24 hours in bed, frustrated, angry, sad, depressed, and lots of other negative-type emotions my only fuel.
Friday I woke up and winced prematurely, knowing that to sit up and get out of bed was going to cost a lot of spoons. But when I sat up, there was nothing but a dull, annoying throb in my back. I twisted to the left. I twisted to the right. Stiff and achey and awful, but functional, by gum!
I ended up working The Saint on Friday, and while I've had more pleasant times bartending, it was doable.
Saturday I drove (!!!) to Biloxi and back — 4 hours — plus sat in a chair (!!!) in a casino for another six hours. Grumbling back pains, but I did it!
Today is manageable as well. The fact that I've sat at my desk long enough to write this is testimony. I would love to swallow a dear, generous friend's oxycontin right now, but I don't have to, so I'm not going to.
Another generous, lovely friend gave me a scrip of Skelaxin (love that word!) last night, claiming it's a muscle relaxer "just for the big muscles." She's a chronic back pain sufferer and calls this her 'miracle drug'. So I'm giving that a try now, and I'd have to agree with her. Plus there's a nice buzz and I'm losing track of time and perhaps overcompensating for my 140 character limit on Twatter by filling up the entire internet with a story that cannot possibly be a) interesting, b) entertaining, c) original, d) insightful to anyone but me. But damn, it feels good to be able to sit at my desk and write to you, dear, nearly-abandoned LJ chums o' mine, just like a big boy!
I'm still going to my appointment at LSU on Tuesday as I want this looked at properly, but at least I know that I can drive myself Uptown then. Also, going to call a friend's acupuncturist. I've never tried acupuncture, and while I'm usually wary of hippie remedies, 7,000 years of Chinese medicine can't be complete rubbish, so I'm curious.
Paul flies back from London tonight. Three days ago, I'd happily text him from the confines of my bed, and that would be the extent of our cavorting. Now, for the first time in months, I'm actually looking forward to going out and seeing friends tonight.
Just like a big boy!
Complete the solipsistic sentence: "I…"
…worry about aging, but not about my own mortality. Kinda looking forward to it. Seems peaceful.
…am OCD enough to select where I step to miss sidewalk cracks or choose specific bits of patterned carpets, but not OCD enough to clean the coffee table.
…firmly believe that bananas are the devil's phallus, and walnuts are the devil's gonads. I will never eat either.
…am lonely in a crowd.
…lose sexual interest in a prospective lay if it comes to my attention that he doesn't know how to use apostrophes correctly.
…am forgetful, but loyal. (Applicable to names and faces.)
…am agnostic in religion, the zodiac, and the paranormal. The brazen, self-centered audacity of people claiming to "know" anything along these lines (pro or con) is offensive to me.
…having said that, I believe everyone should find their spiritual bliss in whatever manner it may manifest to them, even if I think it's super silly. I draw the line at proselytizing/recruiting/going on a mission. That's just bad form.
…say goodnight to my cat's grave in the backyard every night before I go to bed.
…love to travel, but love coming home to New Orleans even more than being away.
…can make a living doing what I don't like, or go broke doing what I love. Working on fixing that.
…have changed since Katrina, and I do not like the person I have become.
…don't find any æstheic problem with putting a few ice cubes in a glass of white wine.
…have never had sex with a black person.
…am not racist nor a snob. I'm a classist. If you don't have any, fücken-sie auf.
…enjoy the company of persons, but rarely people. The plurality of a crowd is repellent. (See above.)
…have hit my quota for friends. The only new friends I will accept must have a wikipedia page dedicated to them.
…am kidding about that last one.
Flu Poem for Winifred
Examine, won't you dear?—
This miasma of beigen snot.
With a consistency of a glob of Elmer's
Six. Hours. Old.
Want to play Who's Worse Off?
Better bring your A-game.
Think I just saw smurfs on the ceiling.
Leaving. Snail. Trails.
Placental in my zebra-striped bankie,
Pillows propping me like a porcelain dolly,
There's nothing dainty about
Red. Streaked. Coughs.
Even the kitties,
Who are wont to lick their asses,
Shy away from this train wreck. I've
Crossed. Their. Line.
Imagine the tiniest meal,
Of chicken soup, a piece of fruit,
A bowl of phở…
Linda. Blair. Anyone?
If there's a silver lining,
It's the knowledge that tomorrow, on the plane,
I will infect everyone on their way to
The. Oh. Cee.
I'm writing this recipe here for my own reference, as well as your delectation. It's my patented BLACK PEPPER TAPIOCA PUDDING and it's Da Bämbuhz.
It's starting to go.
Some months ago I was on the phone to mom. During the course of the half hour conversation, I was pacing the house, lifting, peeking and poking into everything, looking for my phone. Finally, exasperated, I said to mom, "GOD this is frustrating! I've just spent 30 minutes looking for my phone. I can't find it anywhere!"
"Which phone, honey?"
"The one you're talking to me on?"
Last night it happened again. matel came by and we were going to walk to One Eyed Jacks to meet changingthesky.
"I'll just be a sec," I said as I went to the bedroom, pulled my wallet out of one coat, went to the closet to get another coat, and in that time lost my wallet.
BlondeLiz helped me scour the room. We took the entire bed apart … twice. Searched through the same pockets dozens of times. Snorfled through dirty laundry (always the sign of a good friend if she'll do that!).
At last, feeling like a Grade-A 'Tard, I gave up. I stole some money out of Ben's safe and we went to the club.
When I came home to sleep, I had a dream I found my wallet in my houndstooth coat, which was currently residing in the front of the house, miles from where I had put the wallet when I extracted it from the other coat the night before.
I woke up and checked the houndstooth coat. It was there. So what did I take out of the other coat?! My phone? Cigarettes? My senses, sanity and intelligence?
Now what was I saying?
I'm really not anti-Semitic, I swear. Some of my best friends are some of my best friends. But I cannot not confess my love for two semi-un-PC terms: Jewish fireworks (throwing a cigarette out of a moving car) and Jewish lightning (arson to collect insurance).
With that in mind, what do you call Jewish lightning when its victim is an abandoned Catholic church and the abandoned next-door mansion owned by the church? The Stations of the Assessor? St. Allstate? Taking the Jewcharist? (wokka-wokka)
Hey, stop looking at me that way. I get to say things like this. My nose is enormous and hook-like.
Anyway, last night there was a 6-alarm fire (can someone explain the criteria for the numbering of alarms to me?) near The Saint where I was guilelessly serving drinks to my drunken friends and customers. I put a customer in charge of the bar while I ran down the street to make sure it wasn't my friend Kristin's house on fire, because it really looked like the sparks and flames were coming from her block.
It was close—the next block down Prytania—the beautiful old church across from Zara's grocery, and the beautiful old house next door to it. No one was hurt (as far as I know), and the fire was under control by midnight. But it was such a blaze that it knocked out two power grids. docbrite in Central City lost power for a few hours I believe. The Saint, in the Lower Garden Dist. was dark for about 45 minutes.
During that 45 minutes, we had a good time in my bar. I found a box of emergency candles and lit the dark cavern of a bar. (The only other light was the glow of the ATM machine which, oddly, is battery-powered. Priorities?) I played my iPhone as loud as it would go through its baby speakers (not very loud) while we rocked out, screaming and kissing-the-goat in whispers. One customer complained, "Can you turn that down? My ears are hurting."
"Can I have a Jack & Coke?" someone asked.
"I really don't know!" I replied, wondering if the soda gun would work with no electrics. (It did.)
I couldn't open the register, so I sold drinks by scratching down amounts on a pad and making change from my tip jar. When the change was gone, I put a new rule into effect: exact change only, unless you wanted to tip me the $12 change from your $20 bill. (A couple people did, bless them.)
We had a sing-along of Row Row Row Your Boat.
I made a round of Blackout Shots for everyone in the bar as thanks for suffering through the outage with me, and we all toasted to living life like it was 1820.
The moment the last shot was devoured, the lights popped back on.
Of course I'm sad that such a gorgeous specimen of New Orleans architecture is ruined—architecture is what brought me to N.O. 15 years ago. But the constant comings and goings of everyone to check on the fire and report the news, and the bonhomie of the mini-blackout party made last night very special, and helped remind me why I live here, and why I cling to my paltry 4-hour-a-week bartending job.
¡Viva sin luces!
[ETA]—My friend, housekeeper, and always-first-customer Annie just emailed me reminding me of the drunk guy she was talking to. This guy knocked over my shakers and bar gear onto the floor with his rucksack not once, not nine times, but three times in the space of half an hour. I kept sorta wanting to toss him out, but Annie seemed to be "enjoying" their conversation. Until she called me over to inform me he had just thrown up on her sweater.
"That's it. You're gone," I told him, picking up his luggage and handing it to him.
He argued (always a good thing to do with a NOLA bartender) and pleaded and whinged.
Annie's email reminded me what exactly I said to him to make him leave: "You can't throw up on my friends and stay."
This one's called…
Xmas in the Decatur Street bars is not how Picasso would have painted it with a family of 3 sitting down to a servil dinner while cars sing hippie jam band songs outside in the snow. No sir! It's much more hot than that. First of all, most people in New Orleans are proctologists which means of course that December is a slow month. So people are feeling sticky and don't have any fuzzy kittens in their pockets.Your turn!!! Go here and fill out the form. If it's good (and it will be), post it to my comments.
Y'know, I don't think I ever showed you my Halloween costume this year.
I was Joan Crawford. But Faye Dunaway doing Joan, not Joan doing Joan. Because Faye is more draggy. Which is a must. Obviously.
Wig by Brian Peterson for Fifi Mahoney's.
"Understated" housecoat by me, using 16 entire yards of fabric, sewn over the course of two months. It was a total sweatshop job.
There are still approximately 4,938 little silver dots all over Manderley. They're not very well-affixed to that fabric. That's okay though. It's like the drag-færie vomited all over our house. Wouldn't be the first time, right?
Hey, you 37 listeners out there. Won't you please support my fantastic friend Sean and her new book that's coming out next month? Any coffee table would be proud to display this gorgeous, rock-n-roll tome. I saw a mock-up of it a few months ago and it's lickably delicious.
Discover the glamor and grit and fantasy and struggle of being the only established female metal rockstar of the late 80s and 90s.
If you live in or near any of the below cities, go to the reading/signing and tell 'er I sentcha!
Here's the info. Can't wait to get my grubby paws on a copy.
UPDATES on Sean Yseult's & “I’m in the Band”!
Buy the Book NOW!
Pubisher’s Info on Book:
Sean’s Personal Website: http://www.seanyseult.com
Durham, NC—The Regulator- Saturday, Nov 27th 7-9pm
New Orleans, LA—Garden District Book Shop - Friday, December 3rd 6-8pm
Silverlake, CA—Wacko - Tuesday, December 7th 6-9pm
West Hollywood, CA—Book Soup - Wednesday, December 8th 7-9pm
Tribeca, NYC—Barnes and Noble - Wednesday, January 5th 7-9pm
Yesterday morning, as I was burying Harley, I thought what an appropriate thing this was to do, considering the time of year — burying loved ones that you've killed in the backyard. SPOOOKEEEE! My mind kept reverting to that final scene from CARRIE where Amy Irving is putting flowers on Carrie's grave and (spoiler alert!) a hand juts up from the ground and grasps her.
And so I actually gave a small yelp when almost that exact thing happened yesterday as I was patting down the freshly-laid earth and a cat paw came out of nowhere and batted at me on the wrist.
Then I laughed. Really hard. You wouldn't have known I was laughing if you had heard me; the laugh sobs commingled with the sad sobs and they probably sounded the same.
Stumpy, a neighborhood cat who hangs out around our house, was on the other side of the fence and saw some action going on under the crack of the barge boards. Stumpy likes to play, so he stuck his little paw under the fence and swatted me with it, putting the FUN back in FUNERAL.
Happy Halloween y'all. And thanks for the deluge of LJ comments, emails, Twitters, voicemails and texts I received yesterday from friends and internet stalkers alike, when I was feeling so alone. You all are a very caring bunch, and I'm honored and humbled that you gave a damn about me and Ben and my poor old Harley in our time of woe.
I'm much better today. I've only cried twice, as opposed to the constant stream of snot running down my face yesterday that made me so attractive!
I was going to beg off work last night, thinking I'd be in no condition to smile and flirt and serve cocktails, but one of my regulars texted me suggesting it might be just what I need to distract me. And she was right. It helped a lot talking to people who hadn't just killed their best friends that morning. It reminded me that life does go on, and I really needed that reminder. Plus, I made exactly the amount of money it cost to euthanize Harley, so that was nice.
Really though. Thanks for your support, each and every one of you. It means a lot.
Harley has hated being on the bed lately, which is such bizarre behavior for her. One of her favorite games is called "Cat Jail," where I put her under the covers, lock down all the edges and she pretends she wants to get out by burrowing at the crevasses, all the while purring and rolling over and loving it. (I told you cats are into S&M.)
Since she's been hiding out on the records in the front parlour and hesitant to come to the back bedroom, I blew up the inflatey bed last night and slept in the parlour with her. She pawed at the sheets, climbed under, and slept and purred in the crook of my arm all night long. I woke up several times to pet her. She never stopped purring.
This morning around 6am I woke up and played with her, as much as her debilitated body and mind could "play" with me. I haven't seen her in such high spirits in months. Which made it even more difficult to go to the vet's at 8:15 this morning.
"Say goodbye to the house, kitty," I said as I held her in my arms to walk to Royal St. "You'll be back here in just a bit and you can have a nice, long nap."
Ben carried the wicker basket with the red pillowcase that was to be her hearse on the way home.
I cried most of the way there.
The doctor and his nurses were great. Soothing, understanding, but moving the ugly business along. I could have sat in there for hours, wailing and gasping.
"First I'll give her a general anesthetic," he said, "followed by the injection which will stop her heart."
"Okay," I said, trailing snot from a Kleenex all over the steel table.
As I mentioned, Harley has been despondent and lackluster for months now. So wasn't I the proud papa when the doctor gave her the anesthetic shot and she perked up, giving one last animated FUCK YOU! hiss at him. I laughed through my sobs. "There's my girl! You tell 'im, Harley!" She got the last word, and that's just like my old lady.
Ben and I petted her and kissed her as she slowly sank into quiet, peaceful unconsciousness. She was still purring until she conked out entirely.
The doctor then shaved one of her arms and poked the final needle in. A plume of blood filled the hypo. He found the vein on the first try.
"I want to feel her heart as you push the plunger," I said.
Five seconds later, I counted three diminishing ticks of her heart beat — those three last beats like kettle drums banging in my ears — and then it stopped. She was gone.
I buried my face in her warm belly and cried. I heard Ben crying above me. We held hands for awhile as, for the last time, Harley absorbed my tears.
The doctor gave us both a hug. I thanked him for a perfect dispatch into whatever comes next. I envied Harley a little, actually. If only all our deaths could be that sublime and peaceful.
Ben wrapped her in the pillowcase and carried the basket as we walked home. I took deep, sobbing breaths, peering at the crisp newly Autumn skies on the way home. The French Quarter has seen a hundred thousand deaths in its 300 years. It didn't pity me or Harley.
We put the basket on the dining room table. I continued to pet her and kiss her for awhile. She was still warm. I instinctively felt her neck, as I've done ten thousand times before to feel for her quiet purr, but nothing. I think that's when it really hit home that she was gone. She loved being in baskets and boxes and being pet. It was guaranteed to evince some major purrage. Her quietude was … offensive.
I went to the backyard and raked up some leaves and tidied up the area. I dug her grave between two Confederate jasmine vines. I continued to pet and hold and kiss her in the crisp morning air. She wasn't cold yet, but she wasn't mammalian warm any more either. Her limbs and head lolled obscenely in a way no living creature would permit. A sack of meat and fur.
"Are you ready?" asked Ben.
"Yes," I lied.
I placed her in the pillowcase and lowered her into the ground. I arranged her with one paw curling over her face as was her sleeping pose for the last 18 years.
We each sprinkled a handful of dirt over her, then Ben shoveled the rest back in.
I planted the Harley look-alike iris over her head, and surrounded the grave with eight black tulip bulbs. I affixed my glassblowing friend Patti's red milagro heart on the fence over the grave.
When I met Pamela, my bio-mom, twenty years ago in Washington state, we spent the day at an old cemetery. Way off in some bushes was a chipped off marble headstone reading simply "SISTER." We spent that day trying to find where SISTER belonged, matching the broken-off headstone to broken stumps of marble throughout the cemetery. I never found her home, so I took SISTER home with me, thinking she was lonely off in the bushes away from her kin. I've had this headstone all these years. I planted SISTER's headstone above Harley, because that cat was like a sibling to me.
I sat in the cold morning air for about an hour, staring at her grave without comprehension. "She can't be down there," I reasoned. "She belongs in the house."
When I went inside, the doorbell rang. My dear, dear friend Winifred in San Francisco had sent flowers. I cried anew.
Harley's gone. I still expect to see her at the water dish, mewling her "hello, I love you," breep when I walk into the bedroom. I will never see her there again.
The house is empty. My heart is empty. I was going to call in bereaved to work tonight, but I think I really need the distraction. So if Patti's valium wears off by 7:00, I'll go in for a few hours and distract myself with work.
But when I come home, I know she won't be at the door to greet me.
Oh, Harley. I miss you so much already. You took a huge part of me with you. I know you're better off now, and I hope you have a nice, peaceful rest. For me — not so much. Not having you around is going to be a formidable torment for a very long time.
Goodbye, my sweet, sweet darling. Goodbye. Thank you for being exactly who you were and for sharing your life with me. My soul is buried with you, sweet princess.
The little brown thing sticking up in front of the gravestone is Harley's iris.
And finally, a cameo by Harley in my performance of Zez Confrey's "Kitten on the Keys".
Harley's been on the wane for months now. She eats one kind of food for a week, decides she doesn't like it, then I have to go out and find another brand. Rather quickly I exhausted all known brands of dry and wet food. When she gave up on cat food entirely, I canceled the rest of my JetBlue pass for September and stayed home to bake her a chicken breast every day. Then she stopped eating chicken. She's grown thinner and thinner, and walks like a drunkard, back legs splayed out and wobbling.
Here she is, in her recent chicken-eating days. She would lord over her little plate of cubed poultry and not let the other cats eat her special little meal. Sometimes she lorded over it so long she fell asleep … in her food.
Yesterday I took her to the vet. Why did I wait so long, you may well ask me with an accusing waggling finger? Because I was hesitant to have my suspicions confirmed incontrovertibly by a doctor.
The doctor perked up my hopes yesterday, however. "Her behavior is symptomatic of a thyroid condition. Which is treatable. I want to do some blood tests. Come back at 5:00 today."
Okie dokie. I left her at the vet's and went home.
Around 4:30, the doc called: "I've got some bad news…" He cited functions and levels and numbers that were meaningless to me, made more obscure by my spinning head upon hearing from a doctor the two magic words "bad news."
"This or that is, in a healthy cat, a 2. A 4 is something to be concerned about. A 6 generally means immediate hospitalization. Harley's at an 8."
Head swimming. Room spinning.
"This or that level should be a 20. A 30 is okay, but cause for concern. A 40 is cause for alarm. Harley's at 170."
"Wow," I replied idiotically. "That sounds … bad."
It's her kidneys. They kinda don't exist anymore. It's been a gradual, natural thing for a cat of her age (18).
"The dysfunction of her kidneys and the subsequent toxicity level in her body would have killed any other cat long ago. Her deterioration has been so gradual that her body has 'adjusted' to the new circumstances, which is why she's still alive."
"Your recommendation?" I asked, and mouthed silently along with him when he answered since I already knew…
I've never had to put an animal down. I didn't know how to begin to wrap my head around that.
"But she seems happy … well, happyISH, and she purrs and rubs her face on me like always…"
The vet explained that cats often purr for mysterious reasons. He said she may not be in pain, per se, but what she's feeling is like a really, really, really nasty flu. Dizziness, nausea, disorientation, achey, etc. I agreed she was acting like a really, really, really bad flu victim.
"It's a quality of life issue," he said, and again I agreed.
I picked up Harley from the vet and made an appointment for Friday morning to do the deed. I carried her home in my arms, hugging the breath out of her, bathing her in tears while she purred and looked around the French Quarter with mild interest. Tourists would stop me and say, "What a beautiful kitty!" I would look up and they'd see tears and snot running down my face. Then they would back away, frightened.
I chose Friday (instead of today) for selfish reasons. I'm not ready to say goodbye quite yet. We have some bonding to do. 18 years is a long time to spend with somebody, and Harley and I have been very, very close since she came into my life. It's eerie how well we know each other, actually. I've never had such a tight relationship with any other animal. I know instinctively what she wants at any given moment (until recently, when her health diminished and I selfishly procrastinated confirming my suspicions). And Harley, with uncanny aptitude, can always read me like a book and deliver whatever cat services are appropriate for any occasion.
When my ex and I broke up in 2002, for example, and my heart was shattered into sharp, silvery shards, Harley didn't leave my pillow for two months and absorbed buckets of tears into her fur by acting as my pillow. (She usually doesn't like my head sleeping on her, but knew at that time it was what I required.)
I could ramble on for hours about all the experiences we've shared, and how she's been more than just a dumb cat to me because of her almost human sagacity.
She came into my life in '92 or '93. I was living in Oakland, CA at the time. My brother Chris was down in Lo. Cal. He had this kitten, which his then-girlfriend had named Harley because she purred a lot and sounded like a motorcycle. He was moving apartments and I guess there was some hardship having a kitten around. So a friend of mine from San Francisco who was visiting down there picked up the kitten and drove her to me in Oakland. I was just supposed to cat sit until Chris found an apartment.
It's now 2010 and I still have the cat. I suppose that means Chris is still homeless.
Kidding. Chris isn't homeless. He couldn't have recalled Harley after the first month of me cat sitting anyway. She had become my little princess-pooh-perfect and I would have fought in court anyone challenging my custody of her.
In '95 she had kittens. I remember the day she escaped my Oakland warehouse, driven mad by being in heat. I found her under the warehouse, through a crack the size of half a cinderblock. I could see her, but couldn't get to her. She was peering at me, with a neighborhood orange tomcat mounting her from behind. Ours eyes locked. I pled with her, "PLEASE don't let that trashy cat fuck you!"
Her eyes never left mine during her romantic copulation. They said, "FUCK YOU! This is what I NEEEEEED!"
When it was almost time for labor, I made a box for her and lined it with towels. She looked at it, looked at me, and understood exactly what it was for. She jumped right in.
One morning around 5am she left the box, jumped on my bed, stuck her nose in my face and mewled until I was awake. When she saw I was responsive, she turned her backside to me, which had a little kitten poking out of it. I still remember the look in her eyes as she turned her head to stare at me. Her eyes said, "What the fuck is this THING in my cooch!?!? Help me! Get it the fuck OUTTA there!"
I called in sick to work and delivered each of her kittens, which was kinda easy. The tough part was pulling out the bloody placenta after each kitten came out. The springy umbilical was, in a few instances, too thin, and the string broke and the placenta popped back inside her body. (A panicked call to a vet informed me that she would expel those naturally later.)
It was a disgusting but beautiful way to spend a morning.
A week or so later as she was dutifully nursing her children in the towel-lined box, she woke me again in a similar manner as before. When she saw I was responsive, she blinked at me as if to say, "Stay there. I'll be right back."
She jumped down into the box, picked up a white kitten in her mouth, jumped back on the bed and dropped it on my pillow. She stared at me meaningfully for a minute as if to say, "Thanks for the help. Here, you can have this one." Then she returned to the box to nurse the kittens.
I put the kitten back in the box and thanked her for the gesture, which I found astounding and very moving. She seemed to nod acknowledgment and accepted the return of her gift with aplomb.
This anecdote is what I mean when I say we can read each others' minds. I've never had that with any other animal, and I don't expect to again. And so continued a long and happy relationship.
I was biking around doing errands yesterday trying to recall all the houses she's lived in with me. I got up to eight, in three states and three time zones, then lost count.
When I'm at my computer in my office, as I am now, it is Harley's custom to jump onto the printer on the floor (usually turning the printer on by stepping on the tiny button, so I have to keep the switch to 'OFF') and then jump onto my lap and purr/meditate on my thigh.
She's on my thigh now as I write this entry, and it breaks my heart that this is the last time we will be like this. After today, I can keep my printer's power switch on 'ON'. But I don't think I will.
When I brought her home yesterday, Ben and I hung out with her in the bedroom as we talked about Harley, and Ben comforted me as I comforted the cat. I was getting a little stir-crazy and wanted to leave the house for a bit. I asked Ben to go to Lowe's with me so I could pick out some bulbs to plant on her grave when I bury her in the backyard tomorrow. (It feels so weird and awful to even type that as she sits purring on my leg right now. I feel dirty and cruel.)
I found an iris that has Harley's torte'y coloring, and a dozen black tulips to plant around it, so every spring she will come to visit me. I also bought a shovel because some crackhead stole ours from Clifford's backyard.
"Thanks for inviting me along on a romantic date to pick out cat burial stuff," said Ben when we got home. You have to laugh so you won't scream.
I was thinking of having a second line for her tomorrow evening, but I can't afford a brass band. Thinking instead of getting a bunch of friends together and marching through the Quarter with kazoos, but I don't think I'll be in any shape to organize anything that complicated tomorrow.
Harley has, over the course of her life, chosen a sleeping spot and stuck with it — for one to three weeks. Then she moves on to another sleeping spot. This week's spot is on my old records (when she's not on my thigh when I'm writing).
You can tell from her posture that she feels like shit.
In a way, I'm kind of relieved it's finally come to this. She's been the best cat anyone could ever hope for, but she's 237 in cat years, and I owe her a good death before she really starts to suffer. My god, if only we could all have it so good!
I'm going to miss her though. The house will be empty without her. My life will be missing her presence and love as well.
Oh god, Harley, how do you say goodbye?
( A pictorial retrospectiveCollapse )
Goodnight, my sweet, sweet, perfect, perfect girl. I love you to explosion within my chest.
So what do you want to be when you grow up? I ask myself this question constantly. I ask it of my friends. I ask it of my parents, age 70. I ask it of you.
The answer, invariably, is, "Fuck if I know!"
Gone are the days (thankfully!) when you went to school with a pre-determined goal in mind, got into engineering, advertising, door-to-door vacuum selling, whatever, and stuck with it until the day you finally hung up your old Stetson hat and retired to Boca. We have so many more choices in the 21st century. And companies are not as eternal as they once were. Choice minus job security equals a buffet of careers for most people.
Me, I've always said that I change my career with the frequency that the homeless change their underwear — about every three years. Or at least I used to. Lately I've been sticking with things longer. Five years of gambling. Ten years of bartending. (Dear spell check: please stop underlining "bartending." It's making me feel invalidated.) And if I occasionally had a six month hiatus of funemployment, even that has expanded into a three year bout of unfunemployment. (Glumemployment?) (Spell check is hating this entry.)
I pretty much put my service industry career into the outbox. Done, stamped, stapled and ready to file in the archives. Pecuniary decimation bade me open the drawer and pull out that old file however, as bartending is something I'm good at, and it's quick cash for this week's bills. So I picked up one of my old shifts at The Saint, an erstwhile alma mater. The Saint is a groovy, stanky little dive bar in the Lower Garden District, and I love every crusty corner of it. The drinks are cheap, the ambiance is cozy yet rock-n-roll, the patrons are all my old regulars who still remember my halcyon days when I was invincible, and the jukebox is non pareil. Sure, on late night weekends it turns into a playground for the Tulane/Loyola kids, but hey, I'm off at midnight. SEE YA!*
I haven't worked around a kitchen since 1987, and didn't think I would ever consider becoming a waiter again, until a month or so ago I was out to dinner with docbrite and chefcdb at Commander's Palace. I've been a drooling fanboy of Chris deBarr's inventive, impeccable cuisine since just after Katrina when he rocked The Delachaise up St. Charles. He ruined grilled cheese sandwiches for me for life (to cite just one example from his menu), using Irish Cahill cheese with chunks of Guinness in it, pear butter, and a Dakota wheat bread. Like god coming in your mouth, I thought, and still do.
When Chris left The Delachaise and didn't work anywhere for a year, I was going out of my mind.
Last year when he asked me and Ben for input on a biz plan for his own restaurant and invited us along on some space-hunting expeditions, I was salivating before the lease was signed. And his efforts turned into The Green Goddess, which almost instantly topped the charts in this highly competitive, first-class dining city we call New Orleans.
So I was having dinner with him at Commander's, thinking about how I was going to ask the husband for yet another loan just to cover mundane bills, when two and two suddenly equaled four. "Hey Chris. If you need any help at Green Goddess, I've got the time, the knowledge of the menu and cocktail list, and a huge amount of respect for the establishment."
"You start tomorrow," he said.
On my first night, I found (not to any surprise whatsoever) that the crew was a fantastic family, the food (of course) beyond excellent, Scotty the bartender's drinks were challenging my ten years of bartending in a pleasant, mind-bending way, and the customers were the best you could hope for being either locals who know what they're getting into, or tourists who've done their research and found us. (I have always taken extra special care of tourists who do their research. It demonstrates intelligence, taste, and a respect for the city you're visiting. Bourbon Street tourists, however — well, my take on them, which is mimicked by pretty much every New Orleanian, is rape them of every dollar they bring, let them puke and piss all over Bourbon, and ship them back home.) I gladly accepted the Thursday and Saturday night shifts Chris offered me once I had been broken in a night or two.
After the second week, my interest only flagged because I didn't have proper shoes for running around on concrete and up and down stairs for ten straight hours. Chucks are good bartending shoes — if you've got a rubber mat to stand on all night. I can be on my feet for days under those circumstances. Weirdly, the Green Goddess doesn't hire a special person to roll out the rubber mats in the paths of the servers. So I ordered shoes from ShoesForCrews.com, a company that designs shoes just for the poor suckas who must spend 90% of their work day running, ducking, stooping, spinning, squatting, lifting, pivoting, stopping, climbing, etc.
Week three, the shoes arrived, and while they're the most comfortable shoes I've ever owned, my feet still felt like the bones had turned to shards of glass by the end of the shift. Foot miseries aside, there was a nagging voice in the back of my head saying, "Yah, this is the best restaurant you could possibly find to work at. But hey, maybe you're just not a waiter." I shushed the voice for a week, not ready to admit what a pussy I must be to be broken by four whole shifts at a low-key restaurant. I say low-key even though every employee runs their fucking asses off every night — but the ambiance lacks the panic and stress that should accompany such busyness. Watching the excellent crew manœuvre in such a small space is choreographic brilliance. Pure Fosse!
Then I went to Chicago, had some time to think about What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?, and realized that it's probably not a waiter. I decided to stick it out another week and see if I felt any differently.
This last Thursday hurt. My Friday night at The Saint, even with the rubber mats, exacerbated the issue, and last night broke me entirely. I foresaw the pain I would be in last night and went to work with a pocketful of codeine and popped them like Skittles just to get through the night. It was with buckets of remorse and shame that I announced to Chris and Scotty that although I love the Green Goddess, adore the crew, and look forward to meeting each new customer (a rarity in the French Quarter, belieeeeve me!), it just wasn't my bag. They were both graceful about it, and even supportive of my decision saying things like, "I don't blame you. This is hard fucking work."
I hate admitting defeat so soon, and after such an "easy" run, and my respect for the endurance of kitchen staff and waiters has trebled. I'm at an age where I can be ashamed of something, but own it. "Sorry. Just not my bag."
I do not want to leave this wonderful family entirely however, and told them I'd be more than willing — very happy, in fact — to receive a call here and there asking me to fill in for someone who's out of town, sick, or otherwise incapacitated. And I meant it. I could do the work on a part time, occasional schedule no problem, but a scheduled twenty hour a week gig (with The Saint in between) was clearly going to be ruinous to me.
So I failed. But I tried. I really did. And I hope I played a good game while I was on the field.
Oh, and I still have no fucking clue what I want to be when I grow up.
*Unlike many of my Saint regulars, I don't really don't mind the influx of college kids at this erstwhile locals' dive bar. The bar is a business and businesses need to make money. And although I'm feeling decidedly fusty, I do recognize that my Good Ole Days occurred when these kids were six years old. I'll happily hand the baton to the younger generation. New Orleans should always have a contingency of new, rowdy, stupid, obnoxious kids, as I once was. So bully for Tulane and Loyala.
Dallas Fort Worth—
If I'm not there,
You can find me at
You can find me,
Just as likely
Whenever I go
From A to B
There's always a Chi,
or the Big D.
[CHORUS]Swarovski, Mont Blanc,
McDonald's and Wendy's,
I don't give a (wick-wick-wickity-whack!)
'Cos when I hit the road,
Homey don't play.
Dallas and Chicago
Are in my way!
I go east coast, west coast,
But first to Dallas
And the Skylink Train.
is my second home.
[CHORUS]They know me by name,
They know me by face,
Dallas Fort Worth
Is a consecrated place. (Y'hurd?)
All you bullshit MC's
You best beware,
'Cos I rock da house
at Chicago O'Hare!
Sleepin' on da marble,
Sleepin' on da flo',
I'm a layovah ho'!
I can never feel
Like I've arrived
Unless Dallas and Chicago
I've espied. (Whut!)
The days I've wasted,
The nights burned away
at Chicago and Dallas
I tip my hat,
but Dallas and Chicago
Is where I'm at. (Yo. Yo.)
So if ever you pass
Through these two airports,
Your'e sure to find me
Sittin' in some janitor's closet because it's the only place a wigga can find a plug for da computer and phone yo, bruised junk in da trunk from da hard floor, eyes puffy and blackened from lack of sleep, soporific, a surfeit of corybantic paroxysms of ennui yo, and face slack and numb from the fistfuls of painkillers I've no doubt eaten like they were Skittles because it's the only way to cope with the invasive procedures of the TSA cunts, yo!!!!!!!!!!
[CHORUS till FADE]