Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Settling In/ Saying Goodbye

 Adventure = an exciting or unusual experience; it may also be a bold, usually risky undertaking, with an uncertain outcome.

I can't believe its been a month since I last posted. Somewhere along the line life started to settle, like it always does, and I got into the swing of things. This is not at all to say that I feel completely at home here-- I think that would take years, if I had that to devote to this project, as well as the forging of some deep relationships, which I still have not. They say that Kung Fu masters go through a period of solitude and trying before emerging with deeper understanding, knowledge and skill. I don't care a lick about karate, but I think I sort of understand.

It's also often said (and I'm a firm believer) that the universe gives you exactly what you need in a given moment. What you need being different than what you may want. My urge to come down here was so strong, that it was like an epiphany. It was something I couldn't ignore if I had tried, which I did not. If I choose to look at this experience in terms of joyousness, excitement and endless fun, I might consider it a disappointment. I have had my fun for certain, but this has been more profound than that if I can use that term without sounding overly dramatic.

For reasons I don't need to hash out, solitude has never been much of a theme in my life.  And solitude, which can be pleasant and worth seeking out, is different than being alone. Which is different than loneliness. On this journey I have learned how to be alone. To become comfortable with me. And quite simply, I'm certain that's what the universe had in store for me down here. That, and some inspiration, the seeds for which I expect to blossom in their own time.

This evening I took a slow, perambulating ride through the Quarter. Well, that isn't exactly even true-- I was only going to the grocery store. But once I got going, it occurred to me that it was Monday night, and the tourist clog was at an all time low. The temperature was perfect, and the humidity low, like lukewarm bathwater. Musicians sitting on the pavement in vestibules strumming guitars. Wafts of hot garbage floating on the air. Checkout girls who address you as "baybee" dancing to the piped in Muzac. Riding the wrong way down the road on my creaky cycle. The strains of live music on Frenchmen's.

We all come here looking for the same things: oysters, brass bands, crawdads, second line parades, voodoo, dancing in bars with boys. I found a few of those things, sometimes.

I also found long, wandering walks with nowhere to go, cockroaches in my shower, wierdos, sometimes disappointment, the true meaning of homesickness, the crevices of my own mind, a bed meant for one, a creaky old beloved bicycle, the fortitude of my liver, anxiety, fear, nuance, the sound of a hundred thousand nightime frogs, sitting still, and about fourteen million other little details that will remain with me, under the ticky-tacky matter of my memory until I die.

Were this all sunshine and rainbows I don't think I will have emerged from this adventure feeling like a woman in a suit of armor, slightly dented and rusted out, a little ragged but so, so much better-- like a she-warrior emerged from battle, wearing the beautiful sheen patina of knowing more, more, more.

Thanks New Orleans, for this adventure. I'm ready for the next era.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Twice in a Lifetime

“New Orleans is a town where death enjoys respect and familiarity.”
-Andrei Codrescu

He wasn’t wearing a helmet.

I didn’t know Ray Deter, but he is responsible for two of the most transcendent New Orleans moments of my life. The first, in his bar DBA on Frenchmen, wandering around looking for some good music. I found it, without a cover, without a calendar, stumbling on Kermit Ruffins and the Rebirth Brass Band, playing so loud and so hard, the music was like its own element. Like you could reach out and touch it or cut it with a knife. I stood up on the bench along the side of the wall, danced, sang, screamed, sweated, drank, got heckled by Kermit, and laughed my goddamn ass off. When it was all over, it was the middle of the night. We were spent. We were hungry and thirsty. It was like we had to replenish our essential life force. Kermit must have felt the same way, because I bumped smack into him at the bar we retired to. He wasn’t in any mood to chitchat with my drunk ass, and I can’t say I blame him. If I was exhausted, I can only imagne how he felt. I left the man alone to his beer and his plate. I’ll never forget that night—I’ve been trying to recreate it ever since, and I’ve finally given in to the realization that moments like that are once, maybe twice in a lifetime.

Fast-forward two and a half years. I had a notion to move to New Orleans, based at least in small part on that night. I thought that I could live anywhere that made me feel like I did that evening, fixed as it was in my sense memory. I now stay in a little apartment three blocks from DBA. On a quiet night, you can hear the strains of live music coming from Frenchmen’s Street. It’s one of the things I’ll miss about this place in the way you miss your lover when separated by time and distance. But even so, since arriving, I’ve been feeling forlorn. Missing my people back home, and coming to the reality that New Orleans is a wonderful place to visit, but can be a complicated place to live in. I’ve been having a hard time stumbling across those New Orleans moments that make you “miss New Orleans” as the song says, and well, I haven’t been having all that much fun. 

But then, polishing off a bottle of wine (wine is my constant, reliable companion) on a sultry hot patio, the mosquitos nipping at my ankles as they constantly do, I heard the soul-lifting notes of a brass band traveling through the distance, only this time it wasn’t coming from Frenchmen’s, and instead from the middle of my neighborhood, just a block or so away. Glancing down the block, I saw that a massive Second Line was snaking through the streets.

Halting in front of Mimi’s bar, the crowd made a circle around the band and the second line dancers, whose job it is to keep the energy high. Some members of the crowd pumped signs in the air with a photo of a handsome man emblazoned upon them.

A couple of weeks ago, Ray Deter, owner of the DBA bar, was killed when a car hit him as he rode his bicycle through Manhattan where he owned another DBA (he had a handful of these bars across the country, famous for their excellent beer selection and excellent live music). Ray was in his middle forties, handsome, and living the kind of life that many of us dream of.

As the Second Line started up again, making its way towards Ray’s bar, his two teenage sons led the way, each plaing a tamborine; sweating, and dancing, quite literally, to beat the band. As I joined in the dancing (it’s impossible not to-- this is some of the happiest, most infectious music in the world, and if you don’t dance to this, you have a hole in your soul) I couldn’t help but imagine Ray, looking down at this scene, and feeling satisfied with his life. I thought that any life that culminates in a party like this one was a life obviously well lived. This was a funeral like none other I’ve ever been to, and I never want to go to another that isn’t like it again.

Eventually, the crowd stopped in front of Ray’s bar, blocking off the entire street, and the dancing and music continued. The band finished on When the Saints Go Marching In, as is tradition. Behind me, two tourist types, small town USA types, looked on, baffled:

“It looks like some type of a demonstration.”

I decided to enlighten them, like some know-it-all, even though this was my first time.

“It’s a funeral. This is how they do a funeral in New Orleans.”

“Oh? Where’s the funeral home?”

I pointed behind them, to the bar, where a giant RIP inside of a pink heart had been painted on the window.

Maybe it was the wine, but as I turned back towards the street to watch the final strains of Saints, I was overcome, and thought I would weep. But this emotion passed almost as soon as it came, and then the song was over. The Second Line dancers, drenched in sweat, stopped for a drink of water, and the crowd began to disperse. And in that moment, I thought to myself, “Maybe I can live here.”

I decided not to go inside the bar. There would surely be an amazing party to follow, but this had been a perfect moment, and sort of like that first night in DBA, I was strangely devoid of energy, depleted. I wanted to go home, eat and go to bed.

Before I did though, a woman said, “You know, it’s funny. All of these people getting on their bikes now, and riding home without helmets. It’s kind of like when my friend died in a drunk driving accident. After the memorial, everyone got in their cars, drunk, and drove home.”

And that reminded me of something I heard a guy say once, at the wedding of his brother, who was remarrying after he had been widowed. “Life is for the living.” For all time and everywhere, the living will take life for granted, and live it, sometimes foolishly. And perhaps nowhere more than here in New Orleans.

It’s kind of impossible for me to not draw comparisons between myself and Ray Deter, even though I never knew him. I’m an avid cyclist, and I love New Orleans music and culture and living life in the nighttime. Like Deter, I hope to have my own place one day, and one day, a group of friends who remember me as the kind of girl who brought the party. As Deter’s friends remembered him at his memorials (he had another jazz funeral, in New York,) they said they kept expeting him to walk through the door, because there would never be a party that good without Ray in the house.

But unlike Ray, I’m still living. And right now, I’m about to get on my bike, without my helmet. I’m going to go out and do the kinds of things that will one day get me the kind of funeral that Ray had. 

Life is for the living.

My New Orleans

No matter who you are, it can be difficult to espcape the cliché stronghold of a city as iconic and evocative as New Orleans. As flamenco is to Spain and chocolate is to Belgium and clam chowder is to New England and hash and hookers are to Amsterdam, so Po’ Boys and Muffalettas and jazz and beignets are to New Orleans. But like anywhere and anything, there is more to a story than just the sum of its parts.

When you vacation, you try hard to absorb all that you have always heard about, within the confines of three or so days. You see them in droves, perambulating sweatily through the Quarter, searching, usually in vain, for that New Orleans. . . .  Something.

For the hanging pots of gumbo, for the Mufalettas piled high, for the brass bands and the voodoo priestesses. And its all there, but most of the time in some sort of Disneyfied, antiseptic shadowbox designed to separate unsuspecting fools from their dollars.

New Orleans is no place for testy itineraries, packing it all in, or airconditioned rental cars. Also, there are two New Orleans. . . One for tourists, and one for locals. I’m tenuously straddling those two cities. . . .

[Actual exchange on the streetcar:

Lumpy, reddened tourist in fruit-patterned Capri pants: “How many minutes before we get there?!  

Answer: “Lady, minutes don’t exist in New Orleans time.”]

No, this city is better left to unfurl before you. It’s what happens in the intercities, when you’re not looking, and in the least-expectedness. Minutes don’t exist in New Orleans do, but it is a city defined by moments.

When you’ve been to Central Grocery for their world famous Mufaletta and they’re closed for the third day in a row, despite their posted hours; when you see that the bubbling pot of sidewalk Jambalaya is nothing more than seasoned water designed to lure you into a tourist trap, when you’ve been hustled for the fourth time today, when your Antoine’s Oysters Rockefeller proves inedible, when your ankles are blistered from walking in cheap shoes, and you think your head might explode from heat and your spirit is defeated, just sit down and wait. Wait a little bit longer now. Take this walking tour.

Wander away from the French Quarter. You needn’t go too far. Stumble upon Feelings, with its crumbling building that looks as organic to the landscape as the rocks and the trees. Go inside for a cocktail in the courtyard. A courtyard so luminescent with natural light, that the copious movie shoots that occur there do not even bother to light it. Watch the lizards traverse the hot concrete, listen to trickling waterfalls and chat up the charming old queens who own the place. Admire their extensive Elvis and Monroe collection. The weight of the world will be lifted from you.

You’ll be hungry now, so meander over to Schiros. Admire the blocks and blocks of old Creole cottages dating to the 19th century, locally known as gingerbread houses, painted all the colors of fairytales. Lavendar, pink, other pink, coral, hot pink, iris blue, toenail polish, candy. Watch your step—the tree roots are taking over, and the pavement giving way to nature’s demand. Also watch out for the copious toads and hopping frogs the size of your baby fingernail. Their otherworldly croaking will act as a soundtrack when the sun sets.

Schiro’s, like all good places in New Orleans is in an ancient edifice on an unexpected bend in the road. Inside, it’s all craggy and cracked and lived-in in all the best ways. The been-there-forever patina is an irresistible, unrecreatable blend of charm and goofy that invites you to sit right down on one of the ripped leather cushions of a barstool.

But wait. What is this place? It’s a restaurant, yes, but it’s also a wine shop and a Laundromat (“washeteria” in New Orleans parlance) and a convenience store (which they jokingly refer to as an “inconvenience store” with odd selections like ancient bottles of Anicin and lemon flavored Hubig’s Pies). It’s also a guesthouse, so if you never want to leave, as I often don’t, you can book an inexpensive room just upstairs. To my mind, Schiros is the best value eatery in New Orleans. It’s both an Indian Restaruant and a Creole one too (is your head spinning yet? Don’t worry; somehow it all comes together and works). The owners are Bangladeshi, and their curries and vindaloos are top notch. But if you’ve come to New Orleans hell-bent on local cuisine, they do that well too. Groaning platters of fried catfish, beans and rice with sausage, and po-boys can be yours for such little money, you’ll never want to spend your dough in the quarter again. From four to six daily, there’s a rotating food special—something homey and hearty and prepared with care-- a Carribean style stewed chicken and rice, a good spaghetti and meatballs, a chicken parmesan, for around seven bucks. The best part? Choose your bottle of wine from the store, bring it to the bar, and they’ll cork it, ice it down, and serve it to you, for nothing more than the price listed on the bottle. All of this, and you’ve barely spent a twenty-spot. Don’t forget to tip your faithful, friendly barman.

Now that your belly is full, you’ll want to work off some calories. Louisiana humidity is enough to weigh you down. Wander on over to the Country Club, a dollhouse version of the real thing, all whitewashed porch with pillars and torches burning friendly so you can find the place. Enter and you’ll find a decidedly gay vibe, though all respectful parties are welcome. Grab a cocktail, pay the $8 night pool fee, and head on back. (Or, you can stop and nosh on their respectable menu, play a game of billiards, or just enjoy the oontz oontz tunes on the sound system and visually undress the yumyum bartenders).

Out back, you’ll find a scene straigt out of some fantasy you had once. Or a hundred times. The torchlit pool is populated with people of every size and shape and color and sex and persuasion. Some nude, some topless, some fully clothed, but everyone having aquatic fun in this clothing optional oaisis in the middle of the city. Don’t worry, there’s a bar back here too, so you’ll never need to go far to stay refreshed on the inside as well as the outside. Some nights, movies are projected on the huge outdoor screen overlooking the pool. Call it a swim-in movie.

Once your fingertips are pruned, if you can bear it, drag yourself out of the pool and get dressed. (Sadly, you can’t troll the streets naked, but on the upshot, you can stroll and drink, so don’t forget to ask for a go-cup). What’s left now, but a good bit of dancing? Make your way to Mimi’s, and go past the divey, smokey bar area, and find the staircase leading upstairs. There you’ll find good, authentic live jazz trios or quartets, or sometimes even better, a DJ dance party. Here you’re bound to find a good old fashioned New Orleans freakshow lasting well into the night. It gets so hot with people inhaling all the airconditioning, you’ll swear it’s a thousand degrees with a million percent humidity.

Boys will jitterbug with one another, and girls will grind. Couples, and even strangers, might sink down into a corner sofa and kiss. Like I meantioned, its hot. But, I bet you won’t even care. You can do this until the sun comes up, if you’ve got that kind of constitution.

Tomorrow, you’ll need coffee. I’ll tell you tomorrow about Flora’s. But for now, let the good times roll, all over your body.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Joke

A man dies. His soul is complete equilibrium. God and the devil can't decide where he belongs, so they choose to let the man decide himself.

The man, being no dummy, decides that he wants to visit both, for a week.

So, he goes to heaven. It's nice, but kind of boring. People in nice clothes playing Pinochle, classical music, comfortable beds, but you have to turn in early. Denver omelettes, that sort of thing.

Then, he goes to hell. Now, this is really something. People drinking Sazeracs from morning til night, champagne flowing off the tits of virgins, dance clubs open twenty four hours per day, skinny dipping, sex, sex, sex, bacon, gambling, poolgirls eating cheese from between your toes, you name it.

So, when it's decision time, the guy decides: Hell. Obviously.

So, he goes. And suddenly, it's nothing but fire and brimstone, rats, roaches, automobile sized potholes, racism, hot hot heat, stomachaches, no one wants to be your friend, and, well, you know, hell.

So the guy decides to have a chat with the devil.

He's all like, "What the fuck? When I came here to visit, it was an amazing party. Now, it's like, hell."

And the devil says: "Well yeah. That's when you were a tourist."

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Almost every morning I wake to the sound of a mosquito buzzing around my ear. In my slumber stupor, I usually nail myself in the head trying to kill the motherfucker. Being from Minnesota, which is supposed to be the motherland of mosquitos, I can tell you with certainty that we aint got nothing on the deep, tropical south. Where I come from, we were told since we were pretty much embryonic that the mosquitos that make noise are the females, which don’t bite. I’m pretty sure that’s just a convenient old wives tale to get kids plagued by buzzing bugs to shut up and go back to sleep. But I take a small amount of comfort in that tale when I go to swat at this darting bug, and then don’t see him (her) for long minutes. When I finally get her, she meets her demise with a smear of lipstick red blood. 


I live in a modest little efficiency apartment, just a room really, adjacent to a fairly typical New Orleans courtyard (although mine is missing some iconic sculpture of a lady that converts to a waterfall). No matter—we don’t need more aquatic breeding ground. The courtyard, with its palm fronds and climbing vines and tropical mist is its own ecosystem of toads, and frogs the size of your baby fingernail (I’ve even seen them about the size of an ant) and lizards and even the occasional bluejay and squirrel (which make me feel more at home).

When I came down here, I wasn’t exactly prepared for battling (or acquiescing) to nature to the extent that you must in a tropical environment. Since its easier to live in this climate, everyone wants to be here, not just sexy humans like myself. Virtually every day, I do some kind of battle with some kind of cockroach. 

Down here, you have a sort of rainbow of fruit flavors of roaches.

Palmetto bugs, by conventional wisdom the most terrifying because they are roughly the size of  Chihuahuas, mostly stay outside. They are slow and lazy and dumb, and you mostly get used to them because they are always underfoot, but like I said, almost always outside. Occasionally one wanders in, and if you can stomach it, I guess you could stomp it. I’m too disgusted by the notion of the aftermath, so I just hope they’ll find their way out the same way they made it in.

Next, you have my least favorite, what I think of as the standard roach. They’re big (not as big as the Palmetto, but big enough) black, ugly, and they move really fucking fast-- their least charming quality. I’m not sure how they see (I don’t want to know) but they hide from you when you approach. I can’t stand the idea of scooping them up alive, no matter how giant the wad of tissue, so I’ve developed a strategy of whacking them with a shoe first. Sometimes it works, and sometimes they get away. Sometimes they just fall behind the TV, and again, you try and pretend they’ve vanished into thin air.

Finally, you have perhaps the most diabolical sort, what people around here call German roaches. I’ll spare the obvious metaphorical references, and just say that these are at once seemingly the most innocuous, but I’m told the most troublesome sort. They’re just roughly the size of a large ant, nothing more, and they move slow, so at first blush they’re not nearly as terrifying as the others. And yet, when you look close, they have the same body structure and horrific tentacles as your standard roach. I’m told that these travel in “packs”. By packs, I’m guessing the hundreds of thousand. I try not to think about it as I find these on the floor of my shower on a daily basis. I cover the drain with a wet rag just in case that’s where they originate from. No one really knows. I’m guessing no one wants to know.

Besides the roaches, I’ve seen rats chasing one another through the French Quarter as playfully as cats another greasy (yet clearly terrified) rat traversing the side of a building in broad daylight looking for a place to hide (he was probably crazed on some poison,) a spider lodged in a straw (thank Jezbus the straw was transparent,) and too many sneaky feral cats to count. At night, bees swarm my outdoor lightbulb. I'm not exactly accustomed to seeing bees at night, and I wonder what they want with the light.

Being down here is just a reminder that we share our world with all kinds of critters, and try as we might to fight nature, nature always wins.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

On That Note

A long day perambulating around the city. Tropical rainstorm had me and a couple dozen others suffocating on the streetcar, but at least we were dry.

Wading through the French Quarter up to my ankles, I stopped off for an overpriced glass of wine after buying an overpriced umbrella.

Finally, after the daylight, as well as the rain have finally faded, I lean into the doorway of my favorite little jazz club, my umbrella at my chin. Before I can even get comfortable, a man pokes his head around the doorframe and makes eye contact with me: "You do look like a very young Lena Horne. . . " He says this in a British accent. I tip my head back and laugh, thanking him.

The singer tonight is very good. They're not, always, but she is. She's singing "Cheek to Cheek" in an Ella Fitzgerald style. Everyone is enjoying her.

Just then, a couple comes around the corner, heading happily into the club.

He: "So I said, well, I'll just go to New Orleans, and see what happens!"

She: [sarcastically] "Oh, what a terrible idea!"

On that note, I swing my umbrella around my wrist, and head on home.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friendly Ghosts

Virtually every day in New Orleans, I've been wearing a hat that belonged to my grandmother. I only had space to bring one hat, and that was the one that I wore (and am wearing) on my head. It's handmade from palmfronds, and it was just one of a big collection that she had hanging along the wall at our cabin. She'd occasionally take one down and plop it on her head before yanking me on down the dirt road for a drunken stroll. She was that kind of a gal. Before I got here, I got to saying that I was going to bring this hat, because I thought it deserved to live in New Orleans since my grandma didn't.

This hat has become something of a friend of mine down here-- it's such a conversation piece-- I must field 15 compliments about it a day. I've had people offer to buy it, and ask me to give it to them, but mostly they just tell me how nice it is. I've heard multiple stories about how there's a guy who comes down here on occasion from Hawaii and makes these hats. Through this story it has become probable to me that my grandma got this hat in Hawaii when she and my grandpa traveled there in the '70's. That was a pretty big trip for her-- my grandma was a 1950's housewife and so her fate was to spend her entire youth raising children and tending to housekeeping and cooking. She was also a restless soul like me, and was never quite happy with "good enough."  She was a voracious reader, she relished the great pleasures in life like wine and rare red meat, and she always dreamed of taking a grand train trip before she died.

Last night, I dreamed that I was speaking face to face to my grandmother. I asked her about the pedigree of this hat, and if in fact she got it in Hawaii. And then this morning, just as I was standing in the mirror placing this hat on my head, Scott Joplin's ragtime piano came on the radio. Scott Joplin was my grandma's most favorite music. It brought her so much joy-- she'd stand in the dining room, spinning records, with her drink in her hand and her head tilted back in tinkling laughter, teaching me how to clap out rhythms. This is my most enduring memory of my grandmother.

I think my grandma would be proud of me today-- for taking this chance and having this adventure. I think that if she had had the opportunity, she would have done something like this. She had a great big pair of balls, and if she had been able to, she would have made the most of it.

I've been here a month, and I'm done feeling bad. From here on out, I'm going to make the most of this. If for no other reason than for my grandma.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

As Long As I'm Here

As I prepare to take my first epic bike ride of this trip, to really get deep into the neighborhood and explore things on two wheels, the sky opens up and unleashes a torrential tropical rainstorm—the kind that appears as though there isn’t any space at all between the drops, just great continuous bucketfuls of water that seem like they’ll come down forever. Thunder booms that make you cringe in reflex even though you’re somewhat safely indoors, lightning bolts that look close enought to take out the tree in your yard. When these storms roll in, other things tend to go haywire as well, even moreso than usual, which is a lot around here-- even on a normal day.

The cell phones cut in and out of service and it’s virtually impossible to have a conversation, even via text. The radio, with which I live parked permanently on WWOZ (“The best radio station in the world”—and it is) cuts in and out and sometimes you hear nothing but static for long minutes. When it cuts back on, it’s Tom Waits or something equally dreamy and haunting—the DJ’s tend to play along with the weather, both lyrically and emotionally. Right now it’s a folk band singing live: “This was your life/ cry if you want to/ its over, it’s tragic but this was your life/ these were your dreams/ but then you failed to receive anything you believed in/ living in sin and you just couldn’t win. . .” How’s that for a stormy day?

And now, in this fucking rain, the cromagnon caretaker (as opposed to the curmudgeon landlord) is outside on my balcony watering the plants. The internet cuts in and out making it impossible to get any work done, the neighbors have their weiner dog nervously pacing the porch, the mailman just stopped off clearly confused (drunk?) as to whether he’s already been here today or not, and sometimes, I have a hard time understanding this place.

My other neighbors, who were altogether wecoming over the weekend, have taken a turn for the insular. My friends who had welcomed me to stop by anytime into cities away from New Orleans are getting on with their own lives.  Friends in this city are on a road trip. For the moment, for the coming days and maybe weeks and months, utterly and truly all by myself.

I slide onto my damp bike seat in the middle of the afternoon, after the rains have finally stopped, and the roads are like a terrerium floor. The vapor comes up and envelops you like a package of warm mist. My mooshy tires bounce along the potholed streets of the Marigny, and every place I stop for air is closed. It becomes clear to me I’m living in a ghost town this summer—anyone who has the wherewithal to leave here in July and August has done just that, and its only those of us without a clue still making circles around the melting streets.

Stopping off for a drink before I completely disintegrate, hot tears start cutting down my stupidly powdered cheeks. I feel foolish and try serriptitiously to wipe them away before they drop into my wine glass, but the couple next to me has caught wind and are staring. Finishing my drink, I get back on my bike, and ride the almost vacant streets back on “home.”

All my life, I’ve been connected. To family, to an amazing circle of friends-- without whom I’d certainly not be standing vertical day after day. And I’ve always had myself a relationship with a man—sometimes overlapping. As I take the sweltering ride back to my temporary home, I switch off my cell phone and later, inside, my computer. I’m tired. The heat, the anxiety, the roaches, the unfamiliarity, the exhaustion of overthinking, the fighting with the technology and the urge to stay, I don’t know, tethered, has got the better of me. I give in. For today, maybe for longer than today, I’m not connected.

I just read an article about a fiction writer who became a poet because she went to enroll in her fiction class and it was full. So she said to herself, “As long as I’m here. . .” She’s now the first poet laureate of St. Paul.

When I came to New Orleans, I thought everything would fall into place nicely. I thought that love and laughter and happiness would come easy as the wind. That hasn’t happened. But as long as I’m here, I guess I’ll learn to connect to myself.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Real Place

Yesterday, someone commented that Minneapolis is a “real city,” as in, a real city, as opposed to New Orleans, which is not. That might be true. But while Minneapolis is a city with amenities like bicycle racks and recycling programs, I would say that New Orleans is a real place, in ways that cities like Minneapolis are not. My neighbor and new friend, who is known to decorate his stoop with giant mannequins and and holiday motifs, complete with a guestbook for passersby to leave their thoughts (right now it’s Abe Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth duking it out with boxing gloves,) says that this is a place where you can live a “real life.”

I had just been contemplating that while I don’t know what I want to do with my life exactly, I know what I don’t want to do: I don’t want to live in a box, work in a box, and spend my days driving back and forth between them in yet another box. I’ve managed pretty well to avoid that fate so far, and I think New Orleans is a step on a larger journey toward getting further still away from that model of living.

My neighbor spends his afternoons on the sidewalk, painting beautiful, colorful canvases with happy, cartoonish people enjoying their lives. By night, he's grilling meat from the comfort of his big white rocking chair, and inviting the likes of me to join him. Later, he might spin some vintage vinyl on his record player while sipping mojitos from a bell jar, or attend a party in costume, or sink into a couch with a stranger and kiss her. I think he’s living a real life; an authentic life. New Orleans is his place in the world-- he says he never wants to leave, not even on vacation. I sort of envy him.

But I did just pass three magical days and nights. There was night skinny dipping and shucking oysters on the sidewalk, there was dancing to old soul in a sweltering, unairconditioned hidden nightclub and there was the kinds of things that ensue after that kind of dancing is done. There was standing on a balcony in the French Quarter and being serenaded about my polka dot dress, and there was buying a mint green bike off a guy on a street corner. There were other things, whether real or imagined-- the lines tend to blur. It’s has been said many times and it’s the truth: this is a city where moments abound. There are so many moments in this city, where you turn a corner thinking you are going for a simple cup of coffee and suddenly instead you are on an adventure. You end up on the other side of town many hours later, not with coffee in your hand but with a cocktail, following a tuba player down the street.

Later, I have to go and buy a broom. I’ll go not to a Target or a Home Depot, but instead to a crumbling, creaky old hardware store, redolent of the universal scent of good hardware stores everywhere—sawdust and metal and perspiration. I’ll poke around the ancient heaps of saws and nails and keys and packages of seeds and shovels and bicycle locks and doorknobs and rakes and eventually I might find a broom and buy it off of the old characters behind the counter who look like they’ve been sitting back there, unmoved, for the past two hundred years, as organic to the landscape as the tree roots that break the sidewalks around here.  

I’ll put that broom in my bike basket and head back home, or, you never know, I might just hop on it and fly, fly away.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Night Sweats

I never feel completely at ease in New Orleans. I haven’t left the bathroom light on since I was eight years old, but I do, here. I don’t know if it’s the criminals, the roaches, the landlady or the ghosts who set me on edge, but they do. I long for the warm skin, the reassuring musculature of a man to roll into at night, but instead I only find a cheap foam pillow. I clutch it, and hold my pee until morning. The bathroom light is only reassurance, not guarantee.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Rescue from Boredom

In a moment of extreme self-examination, in a “what am I doing here and why?" type of moment, I open not so randomly to this:

“Yes, it’s true that, statistically, we live “less” than people who go to bed at a plain hour in the joyless working hells of virtuous towns, but we live experientially twice as long. Having stayed up in the bars and saloons of New Orleans for a few years now, I can attest to their life-enhancing qualities. Some of them are veritable time machines. I know a three-hundred-year-old man who occupies the stool at the far end of the Saturn Bar. His longevity is the result of having no idea what time it is. He hasn’t seen a newspaper in two hundred years. He is plotting to rescue Napoleon from exile, boredom, and history.”

One Night in New Orleans

After a duel with a duo of cockroaches in the bathroom, I was in no mood to finish off my chicken fried bacon BLT in the kitchen of my temporary apartment. If the roaches are willing to eat toothpaste and soap scum, just imagine how they might feel about pork belly. Stepping out onto the porch, my hair wrapped in a towel to wick away the incessant perspiration and give my shoulders a break from the heat, I take a seat on the bench. Glancing to my right, the porch swing belonging to the neighbor is swinging mightily. Checking out the branches and my own arm hair, I register that there is no breeze to speak of, let alone a wind. Either the neighbors heard my shuffling to come outside and decided to make haste to avoid me, or, who knows? This is New Orleans.

Below me, I notice a drain and sewer service van. He’s blocking the driveway, and it is rather late-- past midnight. He begins dragging heavy equipment out of the building, but not before pulling a towel out of the cab, with which he makes a great show of wiping down not only his brow, but his entire face and both of his arms, shoulder to hands, over and over again. The landlady (Cruella,) and the caretaker, Tommy (all greasy hair and cromagnon brow, and seemingly BFF—lovers?—to Cruella) are also on the curb, thanking the drain man profusely. The drain man refuses to respond, and seems, for lack of a better term, disgusted. In between telling him what a good job he has done, Cruella and Tommy are talking in hushed tones amongst themselves. 

Meanwhile, the porchswing still sways in absence of its catalyst.

The longer I watch the drain man, Cruella, and Tommy in their surreptitious exchange, the more uneasy I become. I don’t like this place, I don’t like the cockroaches in the bathroom, I don’t like these people and their mysterious late night plumbing crisis, and I most definitely don’t appreciate the ghostly pink porch swing. My mind begins to concoct scenarios. Codrescu’s tales of crime, murder and ghostly, ghastly scenes overtake my judgment. I wonder if I should stay here any longer, even tonight. My instinctive, reptile brain is luminescent with defense mechanisms.

I hear Tommy tell the drain man that the situation was certainly “unique.” Now. If you have spent any time at all in this city-- where red devils take morning coffee with you, where handicapped people are spilled out of their wheelchairs onto the sidewalk, asleep (?) and no one takes a single moment of notice, where rats share with you your backyard, where lesbians all but make love in the rain in the daylight on street corners, where brass bands are your lullabye and your alarmclock, where a girl walks the streets twentyfour hours a day holding a fishbowl filled with blue booze-- you might imagine that circumstances would be well unusual to have a New Orleanian describe anything as “unique.” 

With a palpable start of surprise, Cruella notices my presence on the porch, and she’s suddenly sweet as a praline. “Hi Mecca!” This alone evokes suspicion on my part. I tell her about my “visitors,” and off the bat, she knows I’m referring to roaches. She apologizes, says she had an emergency this evening, and that she’s not going to try to fix anything else, at least not tonight. She makes her way to her apartment. Tommy and drain man make a brief exchange in Tommy’s apartment, and drain man is off like a shot. 

I want to wash off the ick. I want to flee. I want to do anything but stay here tonight. I think of chasing down the drain man to ask him what he found, but truly, I don’t want to know. I turn out the lights and acquiesce to the night, still in my clothes. The rats coo their disgusting song, the roaches do their thing with the soap scum, and I try to tune out the clang of the ceiling fan as it fights with the Louisiana humidity.

Tomorrow is a new day in New Orleans.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Well. What a couple of weeks. It would be impossible to recap it all, but suffice to say that drinks were drunk, food was eaten, dances were danced. I had a major computer problem that prevented me from writing here, so I took to pen and paper, which suits this city much better anyway. Easier to "work" while hunkered down over a glass of wine at a a blues club.

While I've been having my fair share of fun, the transition has been equal parts tough, and challenges abound. I finally took my leave from my gracious host Jo, and left her to liberate her home from nearly three weeks of houseguestdom. She must be breathing a heavy sigh of relief. For the moment, I'm in a temporary housing situation that is interesting to put it lightly.

The house is on a lovely street in the Marigny/ Bywater area, the same building that will house my more permanent apartment in a week. I met the landlady via an ad I had placed on Craigslist in search of temporary housing. In short time, I received a phone call from a person I have come to dub "Cruella." She was terse, and she was telling me how it was going to be. Were it not for my conviction to "stay open to all possibilities" while on this journey, I would have hung up on her fool face.

Cruella is a tight, grey, petite woman with enormous breasts. She looks like she might have been beautiful once upon a time, but some fate, the likes of which I cannot begin to fathom, has taken the joy altogether out of her. The building houses approximately six rental units, and she lives on the property. When she let me move in yesterday (in exchange for $200 for a week) I was told that I "walk heavy." I was also instructed on how to open and close the door, how to put my shoes on the "welcome" mat (ha,) instructed that she expected me not to cook, but that I could put my things on the sink edges but not inside of the cabinets. My other items were to go right into the walk in closet, and that I was to make my bed each morning. I was to be scrupulous about cleaning up after myself. I was also told that the plaster was put up in this home in the 1920's. I didn't find out why that was relevant until 7am this morning.

The apartment, which seemed charming enough in the daylight, has a depressing quality by night. Decades of cigarette smoke has accumulated in dank yellow clouds upon the ceiling. The walls have been plastered, and then plastered over again to hide a century of flaws, and the heavy curtains hang with the dejected pallor of a million sad tales. The bedding is cheap and scratchy and as I lay awake in the insomniac irritability of being alone in a strange, dark room, I pay attention to every itch and scratch in silent prayer that the linens are free of bedbugs. When I came to look at the place, it was fresh and chill with the central air, but now, she has it set to low, which at least takes the heavy Louisiana humidity out of the air, but the air is still, silent and dank and I wish I could throw open a window to remind myself of life. Outside, like most other places in this city, you can hear the night chatter of rats. I pretend its crickets or frogs.

I put the local radio station on very low to keep me company-- I can usually count on this station for jaunty rockabilly, vintage country, and lovely old blues, but in the middle of the night I'm awakened by music so haunting and otherworldly it causes me to hit the off button.

At five, I hear footsteps so close, I swear they are walking past the foot of my bed. I am on the top floor, so they cannot possibly be coming from above. It happens again, so close, that I bolt upright in bed and switch on the light. I remember that in my grandparents old house, the floorboards would stick, so that after you had climbed into bed, an hour or so later, they would unstick themselves in the very pattern of your own footprints the hour previously. I decide this is the same phenomena, as it is the only reasonable explanation at the moment. That, or the fucking place is indeed haunted.

At seven, Cruella gets on the phone with her mother. It's as if she is standing at the foot of my bed. I learn that the walls here are walls in name only. They might as well be made with paper mache, and in fact probably are. I could probably push a hole through a wall by leaning on it. I am regaled, for the next two hours, with why Cruella is such a bitch. She comes by it honestly-- her mother. I remember with a start that I had forgotten to turn off the fan before I left, and I have no doubt that I'll be scolded about this upon my return. (She'll enter the apartment in my absence, I haven't a single doubt.)

I haven't slept a solid night in precisely twenty days, and I'm looking at the world through the reddened, bagged eyes of the non-sleepers. The zombies. My heart flutters constantly with palpitations, and I have a slight knot in my belly from homesickness. Some moments, like this one, I have to fight back waves of tears.

It doesn't help that I've been reading Andrei Codrescu's essay My City My Wilderness, where he recounts tales of the brutal police corruption and horrendous violence that plagued New Orleans in the '80's and '90s; terrible stories of bloody murder, disappearances, and mind-boggling human cold heartedness. 

I'm lonely. I miss my friends and my boyfriend, my beautiful niece and my sister.

And yet, this is where I ought to be, for now. This strange, strange, often eerie city filled with characters, ghosts, and redolent with life has jolted me out of my comfort zone, and made me aware of my aliveness-- heartaches and woes right along with the laughter and fortitude I had become accustomed to back home. I'm not a crier. A half a year can go by before I shed a single tear. Here, I'm overcome by emotion several times a day.

Speaking of emotion, the smooth jazz in this cafe is sending me into fits of violence, so I'll have to take my leave soon. But before I hang up, a scrap from my notebook:


Last night, leaning in the threshold of the door at the Spotted Cat, I watch two couples dancing. Let me first say that under normal circumstances, I abhor people who stand in thresholds. Catlike in their nonchalance for others, their indecisiveness, their refusal to make a decision (in, or out?) making it impossible for the rest of us to simply pass through. But in New Orleans, it's a thing. If you're the first to hold up a door frame, taking in the auditory pleasure of a gypsy jazz band in non-committal appreciation, soon a gathering will follow you, and suddenly, it's a party. On a good night, dancing might flow onto the sidewalks, maybe even the streets.

From my vantage point in the doorframe, the window got disjointed into a double-sided frame, like a dissected television screen. On the left side, a shiny happy couple, maybe lovers, maybe not, but dancing beautifully, skillfully, like jewelry box ballerinas. In their early thirties, in the prime of their adulthoods, virile, straightbacked, pink-cheeked, coiffed and in sync.

On the right danced a silver-haired couple. Lovers surely, married probably, they danced more expertly than the first couple, but perhaps not as perfectly. The wife, clearly tipsy, held her balance precariously and yet, even with her unsteady gait, was elegant in her floral dress, her heels, her chignon held back with a silk flower. Her partner leaned his face into her silver hair every chance he got. They smiled in the contented way of Cheshire cats, their eyes closed as they shuffled.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the window, the young couple danced their way to the right.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Haunted City

Just as at home, I love having the streets to myself after a night of carousing. Late night is one of the only times a girl gets to contemplate the planet to herself. In Mpls its tearing around the corners of downtown on my bike long after the corporate set has retired to the suburbs. In Mexico, its when the tide and the sand and the moon and me converge. It seems impossibly serene, and its when I'm most happy. Here, it happens less, but for long moments it can be just you and the Quarter. Judging from the throngs of people taking in the "haunted New Orleans tour" I'm not the only one to find things spooky magical this way.

A feral cat, instead of bounding away at the noise of your presence, looks you in the eye and then saunters around a streetlamp to follow you with her gaze as you pass. Just then, a gust of wind comes up to stir the fallen leaves, the magnolia and whatever those drooping, fragrant purple flowers are. You pass a courtyard with a naked lady fountain in the center that makes your heart swell, it's so lovely. You think that if you were to look out at that for all of your life, you could be happy for the remainder of your mortal days.

But just as your reverie is coming into its own, just as your hair is about to stand on end, some fool in a pink shirt turns the corner and you realize you're not alone at all. It's you, the pink shirt guy, and your hunger. It's late, so you dip into the cash-only, open 24 hours Verti Marte, where they sell suspicious prepared foods, overpriced bottles of wine, and chips. You settle on a bag of Zapps, and head home.

More haunted magic will head your way tomorrow.

NOLA Observations, For Today

On the heat:

Ask anyone you pass by while strolling the streets how they are, and they’re likely to reply: “Hot!” Minnesota gal that I am, I’m somewhat tickled by this. It’s sort of the equivalent of saying: “Cold enough for ya?” One would think that in Louisiana in June, that heat and humidity would be taken for granted, a simple matter of course, rather than grounds for discussion. But just like anywhere, weather is universal and what else is there to connect us but our few frames of reference about environment and mutual humanity?

A confession: today I finally broke a sweat for the first time, instead of the usual sheen of perspiration that just makes me feel sexy. A sweat that was dripping into my eyeballs and ruining my eyemakeup. And today, when a lady asked me how I was doing, I replied, quick, easy and simple, “Hot.”

On the “pests”:

In the French Quareter, cockroaches (locally known as Palmetto Bugs, code for Very Large Cockroaches) stroll down the street as easily and confidently as a horse and buggy. Thanks to my Mexico time, I’m primed to be mostly unbothered by them,  despite the fact that they scoot along up and down building facades, and along the sidewalks as innocuous as the foofy dogs that every old lady and gay seem to have on a leash by their side. I’ll probably feel differently once I find one in my bed or shower, knock on wood.

One thing I already feel differently about is the rats. At night, their chirping abounds, and if someone, your neighbor perhaps, hadn’t stupidly told you what that sound was, you might have thought it was some pleasant sort of night bird, or a cicada perhaps. But no, it’s the chirping of giant mice, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll see them having a snack in the kitchen of one of your favorite local restos, casual as a regular. What you should do about your own late night eats after that sighting is entirely up to you. Whatever your choice, in New Orleans you’ll be reminded every time you turn a corner that we share our world with so many kinds of creatures.

On the drinking :

Sure. This town is known as a tourist trap for drunken frat boys and obnoxious tourists staggering down Bourbon sloshing a go cup onto their shoes. But. The tourists have nothing. On. The. Locals. It’s Monday night, and I’m sitting in a packed local bar as we speak. Most are either diligently drinking, or having casual conversations while diligently drinking. I’ve been exploring the city all afternoon, and yes, I’ve been in a packed bar all afternoon with people diligently drinking. At the last bar a placard read, “Remember, you can’t drink all day if you don’t start first thing in the morning.”

It’s never a not-okay time to drink in New Orleans. Simply walking down the street you can hear the crack of a beer can opening, yes, first thing in the morning. It’s true, New Orleans is a wet town, and drunkards stagger down the street with paperbagged beer cans in their hands at all hours. At noon, business people are popping in for a bump. At three, hipster chicks are headed down to the corner bar for some cold beers after their dip in a pool or bike ride. By NO standards, I am a light to moderate drinker.

It’s cheap to drink here. Where in many cities it might cost you upwards of twenty dollars for three decent glasses of wine, here it will cost you merely twelve. It’s always a good idea to have yet one more. When people are not drinking, they are conversing about drinking. But usually, they are drinking while they are conversing about drinking. I can’t tell what this is about.

In most of the world, conventional wisdom will tell you that if you drink to excess, you are trying to avoid something in your character, attempting to compensate for something in your childhood, or generally medicating a wound. But here, it’s difficult to reconcile that. Here, it seems that people are living life to the fullest extent. If it means having a martini or five during lunch in the lobby of an overly ornate hotel bar, and then making conversation with a southern belle, then so be it. If it means contemplating life while hunkering over a poboy and a bourbon at three in the afternoon, then so be it. If it means sloshing a beer over your shoes while jamming out to a brass band on the corner of Canal and Bourbon as the sun goes down, is that so horribly wrong? I for one will have to say no, no it isn’t.

And yet, now and then you see a man sitting on a porch with his teeth grown in all askance. They’re in the wrong places altogether. The whites of his eyes are completely awash the color of fresh blood. Bloodshot cannot begin to describe this. He has a beer off to the side of his left hand. This man is a ghost, and not a man at all. His young son is flitting around the edge of the balcony. New Orleans is a complex place.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Here I Am, Today

Gotta write some things down to get my head together. Sister left this morning. We had a lovely time, but now it's time to switch gears and get a focus on real life. Whatever that means. It's a bit of a tough transition, but I'll manage. Jo is busy with work, J is working at the farm where he has taken work. He'll be away four days out of seven, and with Jo not taking work at the farm as originally planned, I'll have to find other living arrangements. They've been gracious, but the house is too tight for the three of us. Haven't found anything promising today, so might try a guest house for a week or so just to get acclimated and rested. Sharing space is tiring, though it is wonderful to see Jo. Her work life is stressful just now, and a houseguest may not be the ideal addition to an already chaotic situation.

This weekend the three of us are working the Creole Tomato Festival, which I'm looking forward to. I'll be able to meet with a potential employer here. More details on that to come when I myself know more. It's also strange to need to keep up on Metro work, I feel so far removed from Mpls and all that's in it. Ideally, I'd like to transition away from that job and fully immerse myself in the culture here, not having to think about what's happening up north for awhile, although of course I already miss my peeps. I am feeling a lowgrade kind of stress, but overall this transition has been rather smooth. Here's to knocking on wood and hoping it continues in that direction.

A few impressions of what I think and hope will be my new home, at least for now.

Yesterday I was greeted by a man dressed as a red devil. Horns, red paint, and silver teeth. He was window shopping and looked in no particular hurry, with no particular place to go. He looked up from his business, smiled at the two of us, and in the haughtiest, most erudite English accent wished us a simple: "Hello."

These are the sorts of things that happen in New Orleans. If you feel like dressing up like a devil for the day, to do some shopping for tea cups, go right ahead. No one will mind. People are warm and chatty here. It's easy to make friends-- before you know it someone is offering up their favorite places to eat and imbibe, a sage word of advice, and a phone number. When you pass folks on the street, if they are local, 9 out of 10 of them will address you. "How y'all doing?" they say. It's a beautiful example of the southern hospitality that I believe is alive and well. A simple acknowledgement from one human to another.

Of course it's hot, but mostly I'm unbothered by it. It's wonderful to forget about the notion of sweaters and jackets. Like one man said to me: "You'll never wear socks again." Fine with me. I wake up to the sounds of trombones and horseshoes clomping down the street. The men tell you what a beautiful lady you are, and then they let you pass by without further harassment. This quote aptly describes the people here:

"There is something left in this people here that makes them like one another, that leads to constant outbursts of the spirit of play, that keeps them from being too confoundedly serious about death and the ballot and reform and other less important things in life."

There is a collective sense that money and ambition is not all there is. Sure, folks want to get ahead as much as they do elsewhere, but they're willing to push pause now and then on the race to get where ever it is they may be headed. I'm happy to be leaning on a corner along with them.  

That's all for now. I think I'll take in a courtyard, a spot of shopping, and a glass of wine. You know, for inspiration.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Me: "I'd like to change my billing information."
T Mobile guy: "I see we have you in Minneapolis. New address please?"
Me: "1032 Bourbon Street, New Orleans."
T Mobile guy: "That's not an address change. That's a paradigm shift."

Well, pretty much.

Fewer than 48 hours, and too many interesting moments to count. Really. Could not have asked for a better time thus far. Brain muddled from far too many cocktails, too little sleep, and a lot of heat, so for now, an (incredibly insufficient) list. But, the best I can do just now, bulleted for your organizational pleasure:

  • (Second) best fried chicken of my life, at Jaques-Imos, next door to the Maple Leaf, a NOLA music institution. Waited about an hour for the chicken, made fun of bartenders for how long it was taking: "Who's making this goddamn chicken?" Answer: "It's fried chicken, baby." Upon arrival, crisp as potato chips outside, moist as a New Orleans evening within. Filled with flavor. Collard greens. Mashers. Hot sauce. Fat boy tries to hit on me by telling me that NOLA food ain't got nothing on outstate LA. I believe him. He is fat. Find out he's a med student. Give him my number for no reason other than he's reasonably friendly and I'm a too friendly MN gal. He'll be bugging me for sure.
  • Stoop sitting last night. Characters abound. I wait for the final group to pass by because I believe they must have a nugget. They do. Brother: "I had a dream last night. And in it? I was doing not shit." Laughter ensues.
  • Perfect coffee at Envie, the J's fav coffee shop. Not interesting perse, but comforting. 
  • Near flood this afternoon. Niq and I decide to spend the day wandering aimlessly. When the heat proves to get the better of us, finally, finally, like wearing a wet blanket, we dip into a nondiscript pub. People chat, people send drinks, we play the jukebox. The rain comes and comes and comes. Ray, the fat cat who sells timeshares has to move his white BMW as it's threatening to flood. He sends us yet another drink upon his departure. I play Joan Jett, Jerry Lee Lewis, Kid Rock (upon request from the one obnoxiously drunk guy) everyone else was just getting a bump in halfway through the work day. Flood subsides. Everyone has to go back to work after all, much to their chagrin.
  • Everyone here talks about food. Small talk, even when it is about to flood, is about food, not weather. Oysters, shrimp, crawfish, chicken. This is what people talk about. And drinking. They know how to live. I see a sticker emblazoned on the side of a cocktail shaker: "Be a Neworleanean, no matter where you are." I like it here.
  • Niq and I go for Rebirth Brass Band at Maple Leaf. It's nuts to butts and SWAMPY. The weather is sultry as a whore in a damp red dress. I like it a great deal. Anyone who warned me of the heat can suck it. This weather is gorgeous. It wears you like a mood. Like a love affair. You can't just shake it off. It defines your day. Life here is all around, like a shroud. I'm happy, like slipping into a warm bath. 
  • I cannot wait for tomorrow.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Wild Card

This morning, as I climbed groggy from bed for a morning pee, it occurred to me that I only have three more nights in this little apartment. I've already told you how warm and fuzzy I feel about it here, how nostalgic it will always be, so I won't go there. In fact, in its current state, it won't be very difficult to leave. Gone are all the personal touches that made it uniquely mine, and in their place are half-packed boxes, detritus, and dust bunnies where furniture used to hug the baseboards. I'm already tired of stepping over clutter, and when Monday comes, I'll wish it all a fond farewell. Maybe I'll take a final snapshot.

Tonight also marked the end of another era: my final shift at a job I grew to love and hate over the two years I spent there (two years being an eternity in my career history). It would be impossible to express in a few words, or even in thousands, what this job has meant to me, how it molded me, and helped to turn me into the woman I am now. I thank professional cooking in general for growing me up, thickening my skin, giving me a sense of humor and callouses on virtually every part of my body including my constitution. Because of this work, I believe I'm a tough as leather bitch, able to withstand double shifts, testosterone-rich environments, language that would make a prisoner blush, heavy lifting, a mountain of dishes, and come-what-may. I wouldn't change any of it for the world. Well, maybe the world, but not much less.

These past two years have been a wild ride of brutally difficult work, hilarity beyond belief, more than a few drinks (many more,) a lot of sexual tension, friendships the likes of which could never be forged any other way, and situations so interesting I wouldn't believe them if I hadn't experienced them myself. What a ride.

Tonight was an all but perfect way to end it all. Nothing epic in any direction, just another mitzvah in another temple with another buffet of food. Driving into the burb where the party would take place, the truck filled with staff, food, platters, cambros filled with lemonade, clattering silverware and etcetera, we all laughed and joked our way to the job site. Nobody is funnier than food people. Nobody. What's the difference between jam and jelly? I can't jelly my dick up your ass.

But anyway, we arrive, and once the parking spot is situated, and the contact person, and where to make this happen, we unload the truck. The hour or two between unload and setup is tense, trying to make the show go on in a timely fashion for the host, who has high expectations. We chatter with one another, but all the while we never stop moving. Probably, we haven't sat down for several hours save for the car ride. There is really no time to stop and think about your aching lower back, your hips that seem to keep screaming: "You're not as young as you used to be!"

Once the buffet is groaning, and the glasses are iced and filled and the coffee pots piping and the silver polished, there is another short lull where we can all congregate in the kitchen. This is where the real party happens. We laugh and joke some more, hopefully someone will have pilfered a bottle of wine by now and we will be serriptioutsly passing it around amongst one another. We'll be anticipating the arrivals of guests, the needs of hosts, and trying our very best to pretend we care. We're a tribe. It's us vs. them, and try as we might to serve, I think they, the others, feel our "usness" vs. "themness." In moments like this, we are beyond friends, beyond family, and something else altogether. Only by way of the intensity of hard, sweaty, laborious work are these sorts of bonds formed. We haven't been to war together, but it's pretty damn close. These are my kindred, my people.

Will I miss this? Sure. Sure I will.

And yet, tonight, as I packed the almost-last of the boxes, I decided to pull a tarot card from my deck. Couldn't pack them without pulling one last card. The Valet of Batons. A Minor Arcana Card, at first glance, sort of boring-- not dramatic like Death, or Judgment, or The Empress. But then, I read the card:

"His freedom is so important to him that he would rather go as a peasant among strangers than inherit a fortune with strings attached. Don't be fooled by his humble appearance. He is a future captain of industry or world leader, now serving his apprenticeship. He's sometimes seen planting his staff like a flagpole into the earth, out in the wilderness where he can start fresh, without having to make any compromises. You could think of this card as a wild card."

My chosen career is filled with wild cards. People who refuse to make compromises with their personalities, their drive and passion, their realness. I'm so proud to count myself amongst them, and for the courage this industry has instilled in me. As I plant my staff in the wilderness, I'll never forget where I came from.  

Sunday, May 15, 2011


It's almost frightening how quick and easy it is to dismantle this life. An hour of packing, and my artwork is mostly off the walls, my cookbooks are all packed. This place is no longer a home, but a transitional space. I had meant to go around and take pictures so that I could remember better, but I just didn't get around to it somehow. Anyway, I hate long goodbyes. This little place has served me well. It's time to move forward through space and time, not back. In an almost cliche bit of trivia, there is a coffee tray leaning against my door just now. One drunken night, I scrawled, in black sharpie, across its shiny white surface, "Where's the Adventure in Not Doing It?" I propped it above my windows so it was the first thing I would see when I came thru my front door. Soon enough, I put it away, but still kept it around. Now it's on its way to the dumpster. I don't need it anymore, but maybe someone who needs it will come across it and take it home.

Here I Go

I've had to field the obvious questions about my move: What do I plan to do? Do I have a job? Where will I live? Do I have a plan? I've tried to maintain my cool in the face of these inquiries, and innocent as they are sometimes they feel like interrogations. That's my own insecurity kicking into gear. It would be nice to have (a lot) more money. It would be nice to have a gig already in place. It would be nice not to have to burden my friends with a indefinite houseguest.

But then, like a guardian angel, I had a chat with a girl at my current job who is taking a similar leap of faith (only with her boyfriend, to Colorado, where they have spent time before). I hit her with the same questions that have been peppering me. She shrugged. "I don't know. We're just going. We don't have a plan. It's fun not having a plan, because then you can just let life happen." Her words were like a cleansing wash. When I mentioned that I'd like to have more money, she, along with another woman who had been listening in, just started laughing. Money is like that in this economy, apparently. It's more of a concept than a reality. The idea of money still persists, but I don't know too many of us who have any. We calculated that I could wish for money here, or I could wish for money there, and it's a zero sum game.

If you've lived any kind of life at all, you know that making plans is a presumptuous, Godlike game. Life is what happens when you're making plans. I think I'll skip the preliminaries, and see what life has got in store. It's fun that way.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

This Little House

This little apartment. It existed in my minds eye for such a long time. Of course, I had no idea what it would really look like, but a room of my own was so desired I could just about taste it. It isn't that living with a companion is so bad-- and of course there are things that are altogether wonderful about it. The comfort of knowing you are never truly alone, someone to dine with almost always, a couch mate. But then, you are always sort of anticipating someone else's rhythms. When they are to be home, when they are to be gone, when they are taking a nap, when they are hungry, when they are in the bathroom, when they will or will not, finally, pick up a broom. On your own, you have only yourself to blame, only yourself to anticipate, which is in itself frustrating enough after all.

I looked at lots of living arrangements before I picked this one, initially thinking I would need roommates, probably an old vestige of believing I couldn't make it on my own. But when I began doing the math, I found that the opposite was true. A hundred bucks extra per month, and I would have a little place in the world all to myself. The choice was obvious. When I saw it, I accepted it right away, and it took some struggling to get in. The circumstances weren't perfect, but once my mind was made up, I wasn't to be deterred.

I always sort of envisioned myself in Loring, on this side of the park, overlooking the pond and the greenery. Well, I didn't get a window shot, but close enough otherwise. My vague little enduring vision of a life here is the sort of thing that causes me to believe that time and space aren't always linear. In other words, I always sort of knew this would happen. New Orleans too, but that's another post for another day.

For now, a little retrospective of what I love about this place, and what I will inevitably miss once I am gone, in a few short weeks.

This place is just the right space for one girl. It's not too big, by a long shot, but it's also not too small. There is a place for (almost) everything I need there to be a place for. (Except for excessive pairs of shoes, and some kitchen issues, but hey, I wouldn't be me if that weren't the case). When I'm finished in the living room, sitting in my good and comfortable chair, listening to one of several music situations I have put into place, when I'm done with my books and a hearty dish of food in my lap and as many glasses of wine as I please, I'll go into my tidy bedroom that is little more than a fabulously comfortable bed, a nightstand, a window whose shade I'm always fussing with to quit letting in the sun of morning, and I'll feel relaxed and grateful.

In the morning (and in the night) I'll go into my sturdy little bathroom, all Minneapolis ceramic tile, deep clawfoot tub, suspicious dusty corners behind the toilet, hard flushing handle, substantial medicine cabinet fashioned by an artisan who cared, and frustrating old-timey dual temperature faucet handles, and again I'll feel happy.

I like the mustard walls in the living room and the sage ones in the kitchen. The colors are a little off, not at all just-so, but I like that. It's what I would have done, probably, if left to the devices of painting-- thinking I had the color schemes all precise, and of course I would have shot a little too vivid. And yet, who would care-- who would have the time or money or inclination to fix it, and life is generally too subdued anyway, isn't it?  So yes, they saved me the trouble of a funky little paint job, and its already done and totally me. My previous tenant also bequeathed me with a few tree branches, which lend a bit of character I haven't wanted to part with, and on their tendrils I hang detritus that I find here and there. Pigeon feathers, a silk flower that someone abandoned on the sidewalk, gift wrapping ribbons. This little shrine is nothing to someone else, but its everything to me. Mine. The moments of my life, propped in a corner of my own room.

My CD collection that I refuse to part with, encompassing the last two decades of my life, maybe longer. A dalliance with KC and the Sunshine Band. An enduring love affair with Prince. My Nana's cedar chest, filled with my entire life's worth of keepsakes-- scraps of writing that would make me blush to this day, the baby blankets that I was never able to utilize. I've filled a second chest. I've asked to be buried (or burned) with them if my time comes prematurely. Anything that means anything to me gets slipped into the top of the chests. To go through them at this date would mean an epic journey through memory lane that I'm not willing to take at this point. I'll assume that all is safely marinating in there. Safe keeping.

This little place encompasses, again, everything I truly need. Do I want a larger life? Yes, and that is why I am alighting off to find one. And yet, I could be perfectly happy here for a good time to come, which makes it that much more bittersweet, and pride inducing for leaving.  I'm not running from anything. I'll miss this all. Sometimes I might cry. Cleansing, cathartic tears that move me forward.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


People have asked me many times what it is I plan to do in New Orleans. My answer is that I plan to live my life. I'll do similar things that I do up here-- I'll sell cheese, I'll write, I'll cook, I'll spend a lot of time with my friends, I'll dance and drink and make love and eat. I'll definitely eat. And yes, I can do all of those things here. And yet, life has seemed to close in on me a bit here. While the past year has unfurled delightfully, and I have no complaints about the way it has, there are things that have gotten smaller as well. My work life has shrunk, partially because of my own decisions, mostly because I know that sometimes you need to tear down an edifice to build a new foundation. I hope and believe I am doing so.

Rather than take inventory of my work life over the past decade plus, I'll suffice to say I'm pretty happy with it, overall. Glancing back, I have achieved all of the goals I have set out to. (Except for, you know, becoming independently wealthy and famous). American culture is so strange that way. Enough is never really enough. Not only are we supposed to be personally fulfilled with our job and career choices, but we should gain recognition, climb up the ladder, amass wealth, and hopefully retire at a sprightly age that allows us equal time to travel the world, indulge in hobbies and relax. Or something.

But I've noticed, amongst my peer group, that there are new dreams and aspirations when it comes to career and work. The first one is to be able to pay one's bills. If you've got that covered, by all accounts you're doing pretty good. Another is to not hate your work, and another is to have more than one, and sometimes up to four or five jobs that you dabble in, or where you collect a hodgepodge of paychecks that eventually amount to enough. I've found, the more I ask around, that I'm not alone in any of this.

A word on "enough." When is enough enough? If I ask myself this morning, if I have "enough," materially, I would have to say yes. I paid my rent in full yesterday, my phone bill will not be paid on time, but it will be paid. I have some debts that are outstanding, one to a friend which I would very much like to pay. And yet, all of the important things are in place. No doubt I will eat today and eat well. The heat is on in my apartment. I have a fine cup of coffee to my right, and I have plenty of comforts like toothpaste and a nice tube of lipstick to start off my day. My bike is in working order and I have a job to go to today. Yes, I think I have enough.

There are mornings, yes, where I wake up with a little pit in my belly because there is no safety net. Your mind goes off on all sorts of "what ifs". I have a fantasy that I could be a good steward of wealth. That I would be generous and kind with money. That I would support artists and other people living on the edge, give them a little financial push to realize a dream. Help my aging parents when they need it, rather than just stand helplessly on the sidelines. I've made a pact with the universe that I'll do these things if wealth is ever to come my way.

And yet, in this financially meager year, I've learned so many lessons, many of which I would not have learned with a lot of cash in my pocket. I've been faced with the generosity of others. Whenever I think that there won't be enough, that I'll suffer some indignity or go without, someone steps up to help. It's kind of beautiful, actually, because you don't even have to ask-- the necessary thing, the amount of money, the moment just sort of gets taken care of. I've seen this again and again.

I've also adjusted my mindset regarding what I need. When I separated from my old life, I scaled down to mostly bare necessities. I took with me two plates and two coffee mugs, two wine glasses, a handful of silverware. One spatula, a cheap coffeemaker, one skillet. I found no need to have more possessions around that what I truly needed in a given moment. I got rid of my car, I got rid of TV, and now watch less than a couple hours a month in the form of a movie on the computer when I get the urge. I dumped all the books I'd never read again (but kept those I thought I might) and ditched a closet's worth of clothes. (You wear all the same shit all the time, anyway, don't you?) I have two comfortable chairs, a bed, a lot of music, said books, and many, many keepsakes-- only those things that are really meaningful to me in some sentimental way. I have art on the walls, and you know, really, that's what I have. I've never been happier and I've never had less. I have towels. One always needs towels.

It could be good to have a safety net, and that little bundle of cash to pass out when someone else needs a bump. And to buy a plane ticket now and then. And to have a little extravagant adventure sometimes. And yet I know that comfort can be overrated. I'm healthy and robust. And the sun happens to be shining. That's all the comfort I'll be needing. For today.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Blues (The Greys)

Yet another grey day. If it seems tedious to be counting overcast days, that's because it is. When you open your eyes to another day like this one, it makes getting out of bed seem silly. It's also 34 degrees. It's tough. I made the realization a couple of days ago that I am outright sick of drinking. I'm not sure if people who are not from around these parts understand what it takes to get through a Minnesota winter. The frigid cold, the lack of light, the tediousness of slogging around through piles and piles of snow. If you're a drinker, drinking becomes a necessity. You need it to stave off the boredom, and though it's counterintuitive, you need it as a comforting veil that everything is going to be alright. It's an illusion, yes, but it's a reliable illusion that gets you through each day after tedious day. And, as I've taken to saying these days, it's always good weather in the bar.

But as I said, I'm sick and tired. I'm so tired of bars, I'm tired of blowing what little money I have in them, I'm even tired of the reliable wine buzz I get in the evening when I'm padding around the apartment taking care of writing and wallowing in solitude. But without even a drink to soothe the doldrums, then what? I've noticed that I'm looking very much inward these days, which is boring even to me. A few things I'm grateful for, right now.

The gorgeous, richly golden farm eggs that I picked up from the Kreidermacher farm last week, their tenacious adherance to natural farm practices, and the belief that the natural order of things is best. There is no substitute for good, real food. The best thing I've had to eat all week-- a simple, substantive, egg, nurturing as a hug. I can't wait to have two more today.

HG's company. I didn't mean to get so close to someone at this point in my life, again, again, but I find it difficult to turn down love. It just seems foolhardy. I tend to think of the Janice Joplin song, Get it While You Can: "If someone comes along, he wanna give you some love and affection, you better get it while you can. . . " I noticed how much I had begun to enjoy HG's company. He's smart and weirdly funny and he's always game for anything. Instead of thinking up excuses for why we shouldn't do something, he's preparing for how to do it, unlike most people. He's got a beautiful smile and kind eyes and a generous soul. Last night he expressed how sad he was that I'm departing. I feel guilty for letting us grow so close, and then leaving so abruptly. Through his tears, he said, "You just make me so happy." So yeah, I'm grateful for HG.

For this city, which I know as I know the nuances of my own face. Its streets that allow me to easily travel on two wheels, on my own two feet, where I always feel safe, where I know the characters as I turn every corner and make my way through my days: Scott Seekins (who's in his white suit now, despite this weather,) Uptown and its hip yet small town vibe, the baristas and bartenders and shopkeepers who ask sincerely how you are doing before you begin a transaction, who stop to make eye contact, who have a chat with you. I'll miss these streets and sidewalks, and yes, the bars. I'll miss the cave like Thai restaurant bar that I've adopted as my own, the adorable bartender, the delicious green curry. I'll miss this neighborhood, and this park (in spite of what little time I've gotten to spend in it,) these blocks, these people in my neighborhood.

My beautiful niece, and when she deigns to sit in my lap, so that I can smell the top of her head and nuzzle the back of her neck and soak those moments into my bones, those fractional seconds and minutes that calculated, would probably only equal an hour, but one of the best hours anyone could ask for.

For life, and health, and fresh air, cold as it is; for the sounds of my radiators kicking on when it's cold in the apartment, for the incomparable free sensation of rushing through a city street on a bicycle, for my faculties and the use of my body parts, for making love and the perspiration between two bodies, for handfuls of curly salt and pepper hair, for burying my nose in fresh sheets, for blinds that can close off the grey, for a good wholesome plate of food, for a song that makes my hairs go up on end, for the privelege of being alive.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Mayday. Of course this is the Sunday that you hope to be frolicking with the freaks in Powderhorn park, wearing a ridiculous hat or a feather boa, and daytime drinking and smoking and kissing and whatever else you can get away with in broad daylight in the park under the sun and in full view of kiddies and dogs and grandmas.

But, like most of the days before this one, for the past, what, six months? It's cold, it's windy, it's grey. At least its not raining or snowing. Yet. This past winter was the worst Minnesota winters on record, and certainly the worst in my memory. Snowstorms dumped on us, weekly, daily? Serious ones too. The kind that shut you in, bury your car, and make you think of hibernation, of booze and of prozac. And yet, I not only endured this winter, I rallied in it. Having a car around Loring park was useless-- snow emergencies made the already Seussian parking situation downright impossible, so I grounded the lemon drop for the winter and I hoofed it. All. Fucking. Winter. It was the best thing I could have done for myself in these circumstances. Everywhere I needed to go, I walked there. I averaged about 30 miles per week. I dropped ten pounds almost instantly, I got daylight every day, I got fresh air. I wore snowpants everywhere I went, generally not even bothering to shed them when I arrived at my destination, because, why? When it's twenty below and the snowbanks are literally above your shoulders, fashion becomes an afterthought. In fact, this was my fucking fashion statement, man. Those snowpants, and a stocking hat that rendered hair styling (and washing) a thing of the past.

I strangely liked this winter. I spent much of it with a nice man I had met who spent most of his adult life in NYC, and he wasn't so much for the Twin Cities. I spent the winter playing Julie the Cruise Director of Minneapolis, taking it upon myself to exhibit all of the reasons he should love my hometown. I made him put on boots and trudge through snowstorms on impromptu bar crawls. We did strip clubs and countless decadent meals. We rode bikes in the brief interludes between rain and snowstorms. We had an awful lot of sex. It's been a good winter.

But now, on the first day of May, and it seems that winter still, still, still has no intention of loosening it's grip. The trees outside of my window have been trying so hard to release their buds. But with extremely limited sunshine and only fitful, dissatisfying spits of cold rain, things are reluctant to sprout. Myself included. When you wake up to yet another day like this one, it can be easy to roll over, pull the covers overhead, and stay.

This morning I had a notion to up my trip. I'm having a hard time rallying at this moment. I know I'm not alone, and I feel like a bad, whiny Minnesotan right now, but really, it's just not natural to go this long without your shoulders growing hot from the delight of sunbeams. It makes me want to cry, just the memory of it.

I don't think I'll up my trip, though. I want more face time with Chela, with HG, with my little apartment, which, despite the copious amount of time I've spent here this winter, I've grown to love. I've really settled into it during this crazy, delicious, heartbreaking year. And, before I go, I want those buds outside my window to be heavy branches lush with reassuring life.

*One sidenote: if I've invited you to peek in here, please note that I'm not intending to spend much time proofreading, editing or correcting here. This is more a place for brain dump, for stream of consciousness, and for observing my life which tends to go by at breakneck speed. So, if you look in, I apologize in advance for any poor use of the English language, but that's the way it's going to be, for now. 

Saturday, April 30, 2011

South Bound

So I've decided to go to New Orleans. I made this decision after it had been percolating quietly for a number of days, maybe weeks, just a niggling little idea that something was on the horizon. I woke up after a several day battle with a nasty virus, finally feeling fresh, clear, healthy, and decided. I'm going to New Orleans.

New Orleans, specifically, both does and doesn't represent a goal. More, it's where my closest friend is, it's something new, it represents a challenge and and adventure, and to be specific, it exists in my mind as sort of a mysterious, colorful wonderland. A place where anything can happen, where reality sometimes gets turned on its head.

With the exception of New York, I can't really think of anywhere more interesting in the United States, and being that I can't afford New York, New Orleans represents a pretty close second.

It's been quite a year. After a long, long period of pondering, weighing, soul-wrenching and countless sleepless nights, I decided to end my marriage. I have no desire to take inventory of a decade plus of marriage. But I will say that it makes an adult out of you. It grows you right up. And in this maturing, I found that I needed to be not married again in order to be the person I am, the person that I am expanding into. It was a good decision, and I haven't looked back.

The year brought two other relationships with men, both of whom I adore, and I'm grateful for their presence in my life. It brought the first solid year of financial independence I've ever had. I was a just out of college relationship jumper, and engaged to be married by the time I was 25. I always had some kind of a safety net financially, and that made me a bit spoiled, impetuous, and yes, irresponsible about money. I still haven't fully shaken those habits, but it has been at once liberating and terrifying to know that I can make it on my own. I'm usually just one paycheck away from the poorhouse, but I take an attitude that the Universe Will Afford, and generally everything tends to work out alright. I think I'll stick with that.

Right now probably isn't the world's best time to be relocating, being that I'm as underemployed as I have been in years, and certainly since I have been on my own, but it is precisely this status that is allowing me to be free enough to make a move. I'm reluctantly grateful for this underemployment. Reluctant because I hate being underemployed-- the overabundance of time, the scarcity of funds, but grateful because it is releasing me into what I hope will be a larger experience.

Whew. I'm very contemplative tonight.

I sort of feel like going on about what else I'm thinking about, what I'm going to miss about Minneapolis, what I'm looking forward to in NOLA, what I think my life might look like. But I think I'm too tired just now. It's late, I've been inside my own head for most of the evening, and I think stopping now might be best. More later.

This New Era

It seems like whenever I'm experiencing something truly big in my life, I want to start up one of this here thingees. The first time around, with Europulp, my sis and I were embarking on a big European adventure, and I wanted to document it somewhat. This was also five years ago, and also on the cusp of blog culture. I wasn't really authentic in my writing there, and was mostly interested in flouting how zany! my life was. ie: regurgitating a lot of drunken escapades that in retrospect weren't very interesting, or, probably, very authentic in their telling. It can be funny to look back though. And, embarrassing.

When I noticed that I wasn't really all that comfortable with the girl portrayed in that blog anymore, I started What I Know Now, but that quickly dropped off. I considerably lost interest in blog culture, noticed that it was often about a lot of posturing and silliness as well as an epic time suck.

But really, journaling is a good, regular practice, and like LaRocca likes to say, "If you didn't document it, it didn't happen." So, here we go again, I'm embarking on a new adventure, a new chapter, the kind of thing that I've taken to calling "eras". More on that later.

This here will be a journal, rather than a "blog," and how I mean to differentiate the two, I don't really know. I suppose it will be mostly for me, and if a few of you out there want to look in now and then, that's cool. Probably, there won't be any sort of cohesiveness, and I might paste old writings in here, along with new ones, and rambling ideas that sometimes won't make any sense at all. If you're peeking in, I apologize in advance for that.

But I do need a creative outlet of some kind, and this is just more practical than pen and paper. Also, I'd like a few loved ones to be able to catch up on what I'm up to, because now that I'm going south, we won't just be able to grab a wine as easily as we once did. So here we go. This new era.